Konbini – allrounders of retailConvenience stores, commonly shortened to konbini in Japan, are allrounders within the domestic retail sector, with some stores accessible around the clock. Restricted by the small sales area, operators are balancing a broad product range while limiting the product variations and the number of brands. To accommodate the lack of inventory space, fresh food and non-durable packaged foods like bread and packed meals (bento), the main sales segments, are supplied by manufacturers and restocked several times during business hours. Furthermore, konbini offer a variety of services on top of their general retail business, which covers postal services, payment solutions for online purchases, payment of utility bills, and ticketing machines among others. Despite the challenges of the business concept, the sector has successfully contributed a steady share of sales revenue to domestic retail.
Convenience stores are operated predominantly by three companies: Seven Eleven, Lawson, and FamilyMart. While other small or regional operators are competing with their brands in the rigid sector, the three main operators control the largest part of the convenience store network in Japan. The businesses operate a small share of their stores directly as chains, but franchising is the main method to expand their reach throughout the country, while also shifting part of the financial risks towards franchisees.
Customers of small purchasesEven though supermarkets remain the main channel in food retailing in Japan, convenience stores have found a niche market catering to busy consumers looking for daily necessities and fast services convening in one place with long opening hours. As konbini are relying on high customer frequency to compensate for the low revenue generated per single purchase, single packages of consumer goods are a common sight in store shelves to animate spontaneous and recurring purchases.
However, convenience stores are not only a convenient in-store solution for daily necessities and services. The fast-food counters with menus unique to each store brand are attracting consumers with snacks to go like hot dumplings, grilled sweet potatoes, and lasting food trends such as bubble tea. In addition to their selection of packaged sweet and savory snacks, and prepared meal solutions, convenience stores have established themselves as a major distributor in the convenience food market.