Convenience Stores and Pizza Delivery: What Happens During a Declared Emergency?
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Keeping Convenience Stores Convenient
On April 7, the national government declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa along with the urban prefectures of Osaka and Hyōgo in Kansai and Fukuoka in Kyūshū. While not a strict lockdown on shopping, dining, and other activities by residents, this declaration is clamping down on operations by many businesses, changing the way that people live their daily lives.
What is the situation at convenience stores? These vital parts of the retail landscape in Japan offer food and drinks, access to cash machines, and many other services to nearby residents, 24 hours a day. Prior to the emergency declaration, one industry representative had this to say: “Even if there’s a state of emergency, or a complete lockdown, we won’t see a stop to the delivery of needed goods.” Convenience store operators intend to keep their outlets open as much as possible, given their presence as a key part of the infrastructure of urban life.
As another industry representative noted with concern, however, “it all depends on what level of emergency comes into effect. If Japan’s cities are actually locked down, it’s hard to predict how severe those lockdown restrictions will be. We may see a situation where some stores cannot be kept open, if conditions are serious enough.”
The nation’s three leading convenience store operators have been working out contingency plans for some time now. Seven-Eleven Japan’s basic stance is that it will keep its shops open to the greatest extent that conditions allow. FamilyMart Co. has announced its intent to respond flexibly to conditions as the situation unfolds, while Lawson Inc. is planning to manage its outlets in line with the directions decided by local governments in each area where they operate.
Amazon, Delivery Giants Plan to Keep Their Distance
Amazon Japan has plans in place to continue delivering the items its users order, just as in ordinary times. The online shopping giant does not foresee a situation where its shipping lines are cut off entirely. It is, however, changing how it manages those deliveries. In 30 prefectures, it has begun instructing delivery staff to leave parcels outside customers’ doors, rather than asking them to open up and receive them directly. In addition to reducing contact between staff and customers in this way, it is adding extra delivery capacity to deal with the dramatic rise in orders placed by people sheltering at home.
Beginning around the end of March, Amazon’s operations in North America and Europe began prioritizing orders for health- and medical-related items, along with goods needed for daily life, preparing additional stock to meet booming demand. The company could well do the same in the Japan market.
Yamato Transport has also clarified that it intends to continue functioning as a vital lifeline even under the state of emergency. It has already launched delivery services allowing parcel dropoff with no signature collected in person, placing deliveries next to front doors or in dedicated delivery boxes for customers who want to avoid contact with drivers. “We’ve provided this service for more than a month now,” says a company spokesperson, “and more and more customers are aware of the option. But we still have work to do in the PR department to get the word out about our indirect deliveries.”
An official at rival delivery firm Sagawa Express, meanwhile, states that while much depends on how the pandemic develops from now on, “We are ready to continue our operations, placing top priority on preventing infection among our customers and employees.” Toward this end, the firm has halted use of its digital pads to sign for parcel receipt, citing the risk of virus transmission via the screen or stylus. To further reduce person-to-person contact, Sagawa drivers are leaving packages and delivery slips at predetermined locations for customers requesting this special service, allowing the recipient to collect the delivery, sign for it, and leave the slip for the driver to collect later.
Helping the Hungry Housebound
Demae-can, a major food delivery network, is preparing to roll out a completely online payment platform and implement delivery methods requiring no face-to-face contact with customers, allowing it to continue offering service safely even if a more stringent lockdown goes into effect. The company is also moving to secure additional delivery staff, hiring particularly actively among the pool of part-time workers who have seen restaurant jobs vanish due to the pandemic.
Another big name in home food delivery, Domino’s Pizza, has launched Zero-Contact programs for both delivery, with the driver placing the pizza at the doorway and retreating at least 2 meters before retrieving the delivery box, and in-store pick-up. In addition to minimizing human contact in these ways, the company is also issuing masks to all its workers and taking extra sanitation precautions in its stores. A spokesperson for the chain cautions, though, that “as the specific rules for the state of emergency may change in days to come, we will be paying attention to government guidelines to determine our own service options.”
Competitor Pizza Hut is set to continue its delivery operations so long as national and local government directives allow them. A contactless delivery option, with the food left outside the customer’s door to avoid interaction with the driver, is now on the menu, and the company is looking into other ways to minimize risk.
Companies in a wide range of industries are putting their creativity to work to find ways to continue operations and keep society’s infrastructure humming along, even in the time of COVID-19. All eyes remain fixed on developments on the disease front, though, as well as the government decisions taken in response to the pandemic.
(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on April 3, 2020. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)
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