Robot Guides and Duty-Free Vending Machines to Combat Japan’s Labour Shortage

In response to the increasing labour shortage in Japan, companies are ramping up their efforts to automate services

Robot guide in Japan
Robot guide in Japan
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With Japan’s labour force in decline, businesses must find ways to overcome this issue. In a country that prides itself on technological advances, it makes sense that Japanese companies would turn to technology to solve their labour shortage problems.

Duty-free vending machines

The government is set to approve the selling of duty-free goods in vending machines. The number of foreign visitors is on the rise, so the government hopes the use of vending machines to dispense duty-free goods will resolve the labour shortage issue and encourage tourist consumption.

The plan is expected to be included in the outline of the fiscal 2020 tax reform proposals. The hope is that the machines will be up and running by 2021 when the digitisation of duty-free sales procedures is complete.

Vending machines will be installed in airports, train stations and shopping malls where tourists congregate, in locations outside the big cities. Items to be sold include cosmetics, character goods and watches.

Tourist identification will have to be verified using facial recognition and passport data. The machines must be connected to the internet and be able to automatically send reports on each sale to the country’s custom clearance system.

The number of duty-free shops has more than quintupled in the last 5 years according to the Japan Tourism Agency. However, the number of available employees has not increased at the same rate.

Government hopes that the use of vending machines to dispense duty-free goods will resolve the labour shortage issue and encourage tourist consumption.

JR East’s robot guide and unstaffed convenience store

East Japan Railway Co. announced that a robotic guide and an unstaffed convenience store will feature at the new Takanawa Gateway Station due to open in Tokyo in 2020.

Many visitors are expected to travel to the station as there will be a public viewing area nearby for people to watch the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics so the new technology is necessary to deal with the surge in tourism.

Information will be provided in 4 languages – Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English – and the unstaffed convenience store will use cameras to recognise items selected by customers and an AI system to calculate the total amount to be paid. There will also be autonomous patrol and cleaning robots in operation on a trial basis.

The company hopes to make the station a model for future stations.

Self-service burger restaurants

Mos Burger plans to test a new self-service system which will accept both orders and payments at some of its burger restaurants. The burger chain currently operates a self-checkout machine that accepts payments only at around 80 of its restaurants.

The move hopes to improve operational efficiency at Mos burger joints amid the severe labour shortage in Japan.

This month it will install machines at an outlet in Tokyo and another in Yokohama, with a view to having machines installed in 20 restaurants by March.

Customers will be able to place orders and make payments using a touchscreen and the service can be used for both eat in and takeout.

Are you experiencing problems finding staff in Japan? Could automating procedures in your business help you overcome the issue? Let us know in the comments below.

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When manpower is short in supply, advances in technology can be the solution to meet demand.

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Written by Catherine McGuinness

Writer and journalist with a love for all things Japan.

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