A new term being tossed around by the media is kaimono nanmin (shopping refugees). It refers to people who have been cut off from the retail sector. Usually, it describes older people on fixed incomes living in remote areas, which over the past decade or so have become even more remote with the shuttering of traditional local retail districts (shotengai).
These shopping arcades used to be the only retail options one had in the countryside. The increased promotion of automobile use, which in turn prompted liberalization of laws related to distribution, gave rise to American-style shopping malls and the introduction of large international discount retailers into Japanese suburbs. Many family-owned businesses couldn’t compete, and those who did were eventually forced out of business by the recession or the fact that no one in the family wanted to take over the shop when the time came. In any case, the situation has left many older people who don’t have driver’s licenses, much less cars, without access to stores. According to Nihon TV, there are an estimated 6 million shopping refugees in Japan.
So far, most of the countermeasures for this problem have been formulated by retailers themselves, or retailers in association with local governments. Coop has a special delivery service for less mobile older folks, but as with many such services there’s a one-week gap between the time the order is made and when it’s delivered.
The most creative solution may be the one from 7&i Holdings, which runs the 7-11 convenience store chain and Ito Yokado supermarkets. On Feb. 4, 7-11 started a new test service in association with NTT and the UR public housing corporation. Five hundred households in Tokyo’s Meguro and Chuo Wards have been supplied with touch-screen tablet computers that they use to order food and sundries directly from 7-11, which are then delivered directly to their homes in a matter of hours. Currently, 7-11 offers delivery services on orders made via telephone or PC, but many elderly persons still don’t know how to use computers, and the tablets are considered simpler to use. All the user has to do is touch the image on the screen. Minimum orders are ¥1,000 with a ¥200 delivery charge per order. The test period will last six months.