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OSAKA, Japan — Lawson convenience stores are taking one item out of the bagging area: cashiers.
In a joint partnership with Panasonic Corp., the Japanese c-store chain is piloting checkout machines in-store that can scan and bag items on their own. The piloting program is part of an overall bigger push for more retail automation, reported The Wall Street Journal.
The system "could bring a revolution to the broader retailing industry," said Sadanobu Takemasu, chief operating officer, Lawson Inc. "We all face a scarcity of labor."
In the Panasonic system, a special shopping basket is designed to detect the merchandise in it and calculate the bill. Once the basket is placed in a slot, the bottom slides out and the merchandise drops into a plastic bag underneath, ready to be taken away. Customers can pay with cash or a card.
For now, customers need to manually scan each item before putting it in their basket, but Panasonic said the system could be fully operational in February once electronic tags have been attached to each piece of merchandise, the news outlet reported.
As CSNews Online previously reported, online giant Amazon.com is piloting an automation concept called Amazon Go. Under the new format, customers will use "Just Walk Out Technology," which allows them to scan their Amazon Go app to enter the store and add items to a virtual shopping cart. Upon exiting the store, customers' Amazon Go app is charged, eliminating the need of a checkout area altogether.
Panasonic and Lawson Inc. executives said they don't want to eliminate employees from stores entirely. "Our store is also a point of communication for neighbors, where customers can enjoy chatting with clerks," Takemasu commented.
In a country like Japan, where cash is still used widely, Panasonic Business-Development Executive Yasuyuki Fukui said the Amazon system would only have limited appeal.
"We need a good solution also for customers who wouldn't like a completely digitalized system," he stated.
Panasonic and Lawson plan to put the checkout machines in more c-stores later next year and in 2018.