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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 14:07 GMT
Japan takes to e-commerce

Seven-eleven Seven-Eleven has taken a lead in Japanese eTailing

A group of Japanese retailers and internet investors has unveiled plans for a new online supermarket - days after a rival venture was revealed.

The web-based ventures are attempts at reviving the sagging fortunes of the country's retail sector.

The group, which includes convenience stores and supermarkets, will begin services under the name e-Convenience Co Ltd in the Tokyo area from April, taking online orders for quick delivery to homes and offices.

Japan has been slow to catch on to the potential of so-called e-commerce - only 18% of the population in Japan surfs the web, in comparison with half of adults in America.

But the new venture illustrates the steady rise of so-called eTailing in the world's second largest economy.

And the e-Convenience plan is a major effort to catch up. Customers will be able to shop by internet, telephone and fax.

The service will also deliver lunchboxes to workers and sell goods of affiliated companies over the web.

Target of 10,000

The venture is the idea of Softbank, Japan's leading internet company, which has joined forces with two convenience store chains, Sunkus and Circle K, a supermarket chain, Uny, and another internet investor, Hikari Sushin.

It's hoped that 10,000 people will sign up for the service in the first year.

The companies hope that the easy-to-use software will appeal to people who are not necessarily comfortable with computers.

Sunkus president Takaya Kittaka said: "We hope to make this e-commerce venture the front-runner in Japan's net supermarket business.

"We don't think we can earn easily out of it, but we want to set the path for the future," he said.

Race under way

A rival group of convenience stores announced a similar service last week.

Five operators have teamed up with top convenience store operator Seven-Eleven Japan Co Ltd.

The consortium is setting up, offering online services for music, travel, tickets, gifts and other goods to its 8,000 Seven-Eleven stores in Japan.

Seven-Eleven Japan, which owns the nation's biggest franchise network of 8,000 outlets, has taken a lead in the race to grab a slice of Japan's lucrative business-to-consumer eTailing market, worth 65 billion yen in 1998.

Nonetheless, the stock market was still enthusiastic about the e-Convenience venture and shares in most of the companies involved rose sharply.

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See also:
12 Oct 99 |  The Economy
Online trading sweeps Japan
13 Dec 99 |  Business
Japan's hesitant recovery
20 Dec 99 |  Business
Japan approves new budget boost

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