The ageing population is an issue all over the developed world- a phenomenon that is especially prevalent in Japan. This is happening alongside a trend of increasing urbanisation across the country, which begs the question; how are cities changing to accommodate the needs of this shifting demographic? One response can be seen in the thousands of convenience stores that punctuate the streetscape in urban areas. The services and products these stores provide are responding to the needs of a changing customer.
Convenience stores in Japan already provide an extensive service compared to their counterparts in other countries. They have begun to outgrow their role as a mere retail store and have used their location and abundance to act as provider of social infrastructure, offering a wide range of services. Beyond aspirin, coffee and doughnuts, the Japanese can pay a bill, pick up/drop off deliveries and make photocopies in stores such as 7-11, Familymart and Lawsons (to name a few).Over a period of 25 years, it has been documented that the percentage of daily customers over 50 years old has increased from approximately 9% to 30%. In response to their changing customer needs, stores are now adding services such as health care, healthy prepared meals and home delivery to cater for the changing customer age group. Some franchises have even added healthcare practitioners to their staff and seating areas for the elderly to meet and socialise.
7-11 has now even collaborated with the Japanese Urban Renaissance Agency to provide these stores with extended services in their buildings- which number almost 1700 across the country. This official partnership will see stores that service the occupants- 40% of which are reported to be elderly. They will provide an extended selection of elderly-focused products as well as other services such as room cleaning, mending and even in-store calisthenics. Although this is a more extreme and experimental example, this is representative of stores across the industry quietly shifting their marketing focus to seniors.
It should be noted that this increasing reliance on convenience stores to provide essential services to the ageing population creates an issue outside of the urban areas that can support an abundance of stores. A large part of the reason these stores have taken on extended responsibility is because they address the issue of the elderly’s decreased mobility. A convenience store can be found within minutes of homes throughout the city. Those that remain in rural areas remain relatively isolated where stores are not as common. This perpetuates increased urbanisation as people seek to densify- to ensure they are in close proximity to essential goods and services, it makes sense to relocate to more populated urban centres.
Japan seems to be leading the way with innovative approaches to these emerging social issues- we blogged recently about regional Japan embracing the satellite offices of tech start-ups to re-populate their abandoned homes. We have also learned of companies like Airbnb launching initiatives such as Samara, using Japan as a testing ground for invigorating regional areas though unique community centred accommodation. It seems Japan is establishing robust suite of complementary solutions proposed for addressing both urban and regional issues- the rest of the world could learn a lot from these brave forward-thinking strategies.