I’ve been eating my way through Tokyo all week, but it wasn’t until the very end of my trip that I realized that in all my wanderings, all my bowls of delicious ramen, and all of my guzzled milk teas, I haven’t been in or even seen a grocery store.
Or at least what my American view of a grocery store is.
So it was fortuitous that Motohiro Fujita, President and Representative Director for United Super Markets Holdings (USMH) in Japan spoke this week at our Smart Kitchen Summit: Japan. USMH has 518 markets across 6 prefectures in Japan, and Mr. Fujita was kind enough to sit down with me to answer a few questions about the grocery industry here.
Following is a translation of our Q&A with some light editing for clarity.
The Spoon: 1. Can you give me some broad differences between US groceries stores and Japanese grocery stores?
Motohiro Fujita: I think there are two types of American supermarkets. One of the types is the so-called winners, like Krogers and Walmarts. The other type of supermarket is so-called legacy. Japanese supermarkets are closer to legacy markets. By legacy he means, the winners are close to their customers, in the way that they have smartphone applications and data on each customer, and the relationship between the customer and supermarket is pretty intimate. For a legacy player, they are more distant.
2. How big is online grocery shopping in Japan? Is it growing?
Our online grocery business is growing 10 percent over last year.
3. Is grocery delivery popular in Japan? Is it something Japanese customers are interested in?
Delivery is only a small amount of the sales in each store. The way people are using their time is changing. They want to go outside and go various places when they have time. That’s why they are using the delivery. It’s not a matter of direct interest in delivery services, but a preference in their whole lifestyle.
4. Has USMH explored automation or robotics in its stores for order fulfillment, inventory management or local delivery?
For the past year, we have been experimenting with inventory management robot during the nighttime when the shop is closed to count inventory and check to make sure each item is aligned on a shelf properly. We are expecting to launch this as a product in about a year.
5. Is USMH exploring cashierless checkout, similar to Amazon Go?
We are planning to go into a cashierless store experiment. We have a cashierless checkout system that we developed ourselves.