It may have taken a while for the idea of self-checkout at retail stores in Japan to gain traction, but it’s becoming increasingly common. As shoppers get used to the systems they’re enjoying the upsides of shorter lines and quicker transactions, and self-checkout is about to get even more convenient in Japan.
In a press conference held on January 31, Minister of Digital Affairs Taro Kono announced that convenience stores in Japan can start selling alcohol and tobacco products through self-checkout registers. What’s more, while new policies announced by the Japanese government often don’t go into effect until the next spring (when the administrative year starts), Kono said that convenience stores can start selling alcohol and tobacco through self-check-out immediately, as long as they’re set up for compliance with the corresponding required regulations.
Under Japanese law, a person must be at least 20 years old in order to purchase alcohol or tobacco. In order to confirm the buyer’s age, convenience stores that want to sell such products through self-check-out will have to equip their registers with a device that can scan either the purchaser’s driver’s license or My Number Card, a government-issued ID card that’s not yet mandatory and which the Japanese government is eager to accelerate the adoption of.
You could argue that the system is ripe for abuse. Since the device is just a card reader, there’s no machine or human checking to see that the photo on the card matches the person buying the booze or cigarettes. So really, it’s not confirming that the buyer is 20 or older so much as confirming that they have a card from someone 20 or older, who may or may not really be the person making the purchase.
That said, in the case of alcohol, self-check-out registers equipped with card readers would most likely be a stronger deterrent to underage drinking than how it’s sold when a store clerk is manning the register. In Japan, if a convenience store clerks sees that you have beer, sake, or some other kind of alcoholic beverage among the items you’re purchasing, they’ll ask you to confirm your age by pressing a button on the register’s monitor. The exact phrasing varies by store chain/register manufacturer, but it invariably is some variation on “Are you 20 years or older?”, and generally the one and only button for you to press is the one that says “Yes.” Hit that button, and you’re good to go; in the 20-plus years I’ve lived in Japan, I’ve seen someone get asked to show their ID to prove their age exactly one time.
▼ It says “You may be asked to present identification,” but, no, you will not be asked.
So while buying booze via self-check-out comes with the possibility that underage teens will use an older friend’s card, or “borrow” their parents’, it’s still a step up in strictness from running the whole thing on the honor system. There’s also the fact that while they’re not nearly as common as they used to be, Japan has sold alcoholic beverages in vending machines, with no ID check required, for generations.
On the other hand, it’s been many years since Japan began requiring cigarette vending machines have a card reader to confirm the buyer’s age. Cigarettes in convenience stores, though, are always stocked behind the counter, and customers have to ask the clerk for the specific product they want. Because of that, there doesn’t seem to be much advantage, on the consumer side, to purchasing them though self-check-out, since buyers would first have to wait in line at a manned register anyway. Rearranging stores so that tobacco products are stocked in places where customers can grab them themselves would address that, but it’s unclear if that’s allowed under current laws, or if stores would even want to do so considering the increased shoplifting risk.
As for why, this change in happening, in November the Japanese government approved new legislation allowing the use of the My Number Card for age verification in commerce applications, and the Japan Franchise Association, whose members include convenience store chains, has now completed the necessary compliance work. “This will be an opportunity to experience the convenience of the My Number Card,” says Kono of the new self-check-out allowances, and it’s likely this will be a less divisive way to do that than his other idea of requiring people to have a My Number Card before they can go to a concert in Japan.
Source: The Sankei News
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