Does Your Brand Bore the Japanese? Blame 7-Eleven

Dave McCaughan From Tokyo

By Published on .

Three hundred beverage brands in a space the size of an American living room. That's the promise of visiting a 7-Eleven in Japan -- or any other major convenience store, or combini, as they are known here. When I get a first-time visitor to Japan, that's always my first stop, because a trip to the local combini really does illustrate why Japan is such a hotbed of innovation.

There are a lot of combini. Some estimates say more than 90% of Japanese live within a five-minute walk of a convenience store. They act literally as a sort of pantry at a distance. And they do much more than just sell Coke, milk and cigarettes. For millions of Japanese, they provide all sorts of daily needs.
Dave McCaughan
Dave McCaughan is exec VP-director of strategic planning at McCann Erickson and a Tokyo-based trendspotter.


There are hundreds of beverage options in every store; a full range of top-class, fresh bakery products; and dozens of breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings that are renewed as many as seven times a day. Many of the products are exclusive to a chain, so we constantly see limited-edition drinks, snacks, candy and other products by big-name brands available only at certain stores. Want a plate of Bolognese? Go to the combini, and they will have it fresh and heat it for you. How about a snack of Chinese food?

Plus, you can pay all your utility bills there, buy concert tickets and get the latest videos. Recently, 7-Eleven launched its own bank, with ATMs in all its 14,000-plus stores, and suddenly became one of the biggest personal banks in the country.

The result? The average 25-year-old here has grown up with all this being normal. To these young people, having a new drink on the shelf every time they visit their local combini is absolutely the norm. In fact, they expect it. No wonder, then, we hear comments such as: "I am perfectly brand loyal. I change my brand every week. Because if I don't, I may be missing out, and that would be letting myself down." They see themselves as the real brand, with a need to be fed new ideas and new options just to be normal. What combini have taught generations of young consumers here is that being a good brand is not about security (customer satisfaction is an automatic assumption here). Rather, they expect that there will always be a new twist. And that is the power of the combini.
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