KAWASAKI--Convenience store chain Lawson Inc. on Feb. 26 started a three-month trial of an outlet with no checkout counters, part of efforts to address the chronic labor shortage in the industry.

The experiment is taking place in Kawasaki at a store in an office building of Fujitsu Ltd., a leading electronics company. The outlet has a floor space of about 20 square meters, less than one-fifth the size of a regular Lawson store.

Lawson plans to open its first checkout-free outlet for the general public as early as this summer in Tokyo.

Fujitsu employees are acting as customers in the Kawasaki store, which offers only about 250 kinds of food items, including rice balls and drinks, but not alcoholic beverages or tobacco.

The trial shop is manned, but they do no actual checkout work.

The customers need to first download a dedicated app to register their personal information and receive a QR code.

They are required to wave their smartphones showing the QR codes at the entrance of the store.

A system that uses 28 cameras installed on the ceiling and sensors that monitor any change in the weight of store shelves determines which items are picked by the customers.

A pre-arranged procedure automatically settles the transactions when the shoppers leave the store. They receive electronic receipts for their purchases on their smartphones.

From mid-March, Lawson plans a test run of Fujitsu’s biometric authentication device that incorporates palm vein and facial recognition. This system will allow customers to shop without their smartphones.

The biggest burden for convenience store workers is dealing with customers at checkout counters, a duty that accounts for 20 to 30 percent of their time, according to Lawson.

Lawson hopes the automated settlement will not only free up workers from that duty but will also attract customers who hate waiting in lines at checkout counters.

Labor shortages have hit convenience stores around the nation. A number of franchisees have said they simply do not have the staff numbers to operate on a 24-hour basis.

Kunitsugu Makino, chief of Lawson’s Open Innovation Center, said the industry needs to experiment with automated settlements to establish a new business model.

“Otherwise, convenience stores may be forced out of the market,” he said.

One challenge facing the automated settlement system is the accuracy of footage taken by the surveillance cameras.

If a store becomes crowded, it could be difficult for the system to monitor the movement of each customer.

In addition, the system being tested cannot be used for alcohol or cigarette sales because retailers are required to confirm the age of customers face to face.

But Fujitsu said it is nearing a solution to that obstacle.

According to Fujitsu, the company’s palm vein authentication system has been used by 94 million people in 60 countries, and the rate of misidentification is less than one in 10 million.

Fujitsu is filing a patent application for technology that can confirm an individual’s age through the palm vein authentication system.

It will become possible technologically to sell goods despite the age requirement, according to the company.

As of the end of January, Lawson had 14,600 outlets across Japan.