Japan is one of the countries that are facing a serious shrinkage of population. There were 125 million people as of 2000, and the number is expect to go down to 88 million in 2065, due to a declining birth rate.
Japan is also a unique country that relies heavily on convenience stores, which are called “konbini”. There are 55,743 convenience stores as of December 2018, according to the Japan Franchise Association and the number has been solidly increasing since 1970s.
Convenience stores in Japan have plenty to offer: they are open around the clock, and sell a variety of food for breakfast, lunch, bento boxes and snacks as well as beverages including local beer and sake. Many outlets offer seasonal and limited-time items to attract customers. They also sell stationary, health and household products, books and magazines. You can even pay your electricity bill, and pick up delivered items as well. And all these services require at least 2-4 people per store, including the night shifts.
The Japanese government began to deal with the labor force crisis that would affect the retail sector especially hard. In 2017, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) launched a project to promote automation in retail industry with Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.
RIFD uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects automatically. RFID is superior to barcode, because it does not require the tag to be within the line of sight of the scanner.
METI made an agreement with five major convenience stores, i.e. Seven-Eleven Japan, FamilyMart, Lawson, Ministop and New Days, to introduce electronic tags for all products sold in their convenience stores by 2025, which is estimated to be 100 billion products annually. In the past, there was a problem with items that are microwaveable. The metal components in the RFID tag would risk sparking when microwaved. The tags are generally applied to the outer packaging that the consumer would be instructed to remove before cooking (e.g., a cardboard sleeve), but not everyone follows these instructions. So there is still a risk of putting the item into the microwave in error.
However, in January 2019, after 10 years of research, Avery Dennisonlaunched the microwaveable RFID WaveSafe tag, which withstands up to five minutes in a 950 watt microwave.
There are other tags on the market that are rated for less time, but 5 minutes is the breakthrough. “It was the time major supermarkets were looking for, as it covers the length of time that the majority of microwaveable products need to be cooked for”, says Avery Dennison’s communication representative Lain Alexander.
Now all of the items that require the microwaveable feature at the five convenience store chains are to be embedded with Avery Dennison's SafeWave tags as part of METI’s initiative.
METI recommends that companies selling RFID tags bring the price down to 1 yen ($0.01). Avery Dennison has not disclose the price of WaveSafe at this point.
METI is hoping to extend the RFID-based automated system to drugstores and supermarkets eventually.