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The San Diego Union Tribune has a terrific story about the Japanese convenience store business, which sounds like it defines the idea of “convenience” a little differently than its US brethren.

Some excerpts:

“At Happy Lawson, a kid-friendly store that overlooks Yokohama Harbor, customers can buy fresh sushi and carbon offsets, pay income tax and change diapers, book airplane tickets and sip vodka coolers. There's hot soup, cold beer, fresh bread, clean toilets, french fries, earwax remover, spotless floors, and a broadband-empowered machine that will order home appliances, book concert tickets and sign a customer up for driver's education.

“No Big Gulp, no Slurpee, no mini-pizzas sweating grease under a hot light, but you can drop off luggage for the bullet train and park a stroller beside the bar that abuts the toddler play area.”

• “At FamilyMart, customers can make appointments for someone to vacuum their home. At 7-Eleven – now run by a Japanese-owned company – there's a drop-off laundry service.”

• “Nearly any bill in Japan – utility, phone, cable or tax – can be paid at a convenience store. About $80 billion in bills were paid that way last year.”

• “Food, too, is intensively managed and several cuts above the quality generally found in U.S. convenience stores. The typical Japanese store is visited 10 times a day by delivery trucks, most of them bringing in fresh lunch boxes, pastries, desserts and vegetables – and hauling away perishable food that has failed to sell in the past few hours.”

KC's View:
The broader message here is not that US c-stores should emulate the Japanese brethren, but rather that all retailers need to be more innovative about how they define certain terms of the trade. Like “convenience,” which can mean dramatically different things to different people in different circumstances.

It also sounds like the Japanese stores may be better at serving as agents for their customers rather than conduits for manufacturers…which, as my friend Glen Terbeek probably would say, is one major difference between being a great retailer and an adequate retailer.