FamilyMart convenient store adopts facial recognition checkouts to cut need for staff

Major Japanese convenience store operator FamilyMart Co on Tuesday introduced checkouts that use facial recognition technology, as the company looks to address the labor shortage being faced widely across the country.

With the latest facial recognition and image analysis technologies developed by Panasonic Corp, customers at a newly opened store in Yokohama can register their photo and credit card information and then do a quick shop using the unmanned cashiers.

Customers simply need to place the items they want to purchase on a surface and cameras at the cashier counter recognize both their face and the products. Their payment is processed when a passcode linked to the registered credit card is entered.

In the trial stage, around 1,000 customers will be given access to the system, all workers at nearby Panasonic factories.

“I am very excited to open this store with Panasonic’s latest technology. We may face some (technological) difficulties, but we must overcome them,” FamilyMart President Takashi Sawada told reporters.

Panasonic, which as a franchisee operates the FamilyMart store, has dispatched an official to serve as the store’s senior manager in order that they can keep a close eye on the new system. The hope is that the store will be able to effectively operate with a smaller than usual crew of staff.

A FamilyMart official said the company would like to introduce the facial recognition system in other stores in Japan if the trial proves successful.

Amid a declining population in the country’s graying society, major Japanese convenience store operators have suffered from labor shortages, especially late at night, and have struggled to maintain around-the-clock services.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co joined with NEC Corp. to begin a similar experiment using facial recognition in December at a Tokyo outlet, with customers restricted to NEC employees.

Lawson Inc. will try operating two unmanned stores overnight from July using just self-checkout machines and a smartphone app to scan product barcodes.

Company sources also said that Lawson will introduce self-checkout systems at all its 14,000 stores nationwide by October.