Lawson hopes tablets will make clerks’ jobs easier

Lawson, one of Japan’s major convenience chains, is experimenting with tablet computers.

The tablets are in some 20 stores in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, on a trial basis.

The hope is that the tablets, equipped with special software, can make its stores run more efficiently, help them to better compete against rivals and cope with the country’s labor shortage.

Starting early next year, Lawson plans to gradually bring the tablets into more stores, Genichi Tamatsuka, Lawson’s chairman and chief executive officer, told The Nikkei.

Lawson’s move comes as Japan’s convenience chains intensify their battle for market share. It also follows recent top-level personnel changes at the company.

Sadanobu Takemasu, a former executive at trading house Mitsubishi Corp., on June 1 was promoted from vice president to president and chief operating officer. Tamatsuka became Lawson’s chairman and CEO the same day, after having served as president.

Takemasu is now in charge of new businesses and overseas operations, while Tamatsuka supervises domestic convenience store operations.

Lawson’s headquarters has so far focused on developing new products and promotional campaigns; it has not involved itself in how store clerks carry out their tasks.

That’s changing. The new tablet assistants will give instructions to workers based on factors like sales data and the number of hours employees are working at each outlet.

Among other things, the devices will help workers cook and prepare an adequate amount of deep-fried food products every day. Up until now, these daily decisions have been left up to each store’s manager, who makes judgments based on his or her experience.

“We need to enhance the productivity of our stores,” Tamatsuka said, “to cope with the labor shortage amid the decline in Japan’s working population.”

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