Convenience Store Showdown, Part 1 - Family Mart vs. 7-11 vs. Lawson!

In our household, we're split in terms of something that is very, very important when living in or visiting Japan...

Which convenience store is our favorite?

My favorite is 7-11, whereas Mike's favorite is Family Mart - it tends to be a bit of a personal preference thing, and there are a lot of factors that play into why someone prefers one over the other. Which got us thinking...if there was to be a convenience store showdown (a bit of a Convenience store Olympics, if you will...) then who would win?

We headed out to the main three convenience stores you'll see across Japan - 7-11, Family Mart, and Lawson's - and we decided on 10 categories to rack and stack who was the best. We tried to make this as fair as possible, by visiting 3 similarly sized stand alone stores, in the same general area (within about 5 minutes from our home) that had comparative levels of customer traffic. 

Our 10 Categories were the following:

Ticket Services/ATM facilities
Cold Drinks
Hot Drinks
Breads and Pastries
Hot Food
Ready Meals
Ice Cream
Safety Net Aisle
Seasonal Items

Ticket Services/ATM Facilities

To us, the criteria of this was ease of use (the interface being simple to work), the types of tickets you can purchase, and how friendly they are for foreign travelers (ie. will your ATM card work if you use it in their machine). In terms of interface - hands down we thought 7-11 had the best interface. They had a full English interface, and despite being limited it definitely seemed the most functional of the three. It was a bit of a tie for second place between Family Mart and Lawson's after that. 7-11 is the clear winner to us for ticket services!

In terms of actual ticket purchases - if you're looking for something specific like tickets to the Ghibli Museum then Lawson might be your preference (they're the only convenience store that offers tickets for there) but for every other kind of tickets we would say it's still 7-11 all the way. 7-11 sells tickets to movies, special exhibitions, concerts and sporting events (like the sumo championships). Family Mart comes in second with its access to JTB, Disneyland, and LegoLand. 

For ATM use - 7-11 has you covered again, accepting international cards with no hassles (and with an easy to follow English menu!) As for Family Mart and Lawson's in this regard...womp womp...your foreign card won't work here (at least my Aussie one and Mike's American one didn't!)

Winner: 7-11.

Cold Drinks

This is a bit of a tough one, since basically all three convenience stores offer the same drinks. Whilst Lawson's has the Lawson's Select specialty drinks, 7-11 has a bigger range of store branded drinks, as well as specialty teas, smoothies, flavored iced coffees and more. 

Family Mart didn't offer a store branded selection when we visited (not sure if perhaps some stores do - I don't think I've seen it before, though!) so they trailed in last place.

Winner 7-11.

Hot Drinks

Every store will offer a variety of heated beverages in plastic bottles or cans, but what will set the three apart is really which store has the best cafe style services. 7-11 came last for us in this regard. They offered standard coffees and teas, but nothing special that went over and above the basics. Walking into Family Mart, you're greeted by Famima Cafe. There, you get a bit more expansive with options - lattes, specialty teas (like chai), espressos - but it's still somewhat minimalistic, compared to the clear winner this round - Lawson's Machi Cafe. Unlike 7-11 and Family Mart, where the coffee and tea options are self serve, at Lawson's the cashier becomes your barista, preparing your specialty drink!

Winner: Lawson's.

Breads and Pastries

Continuing on from their win last round with the hot drinks, Lawson's form continued with the breads and pastries. Like their Machi Cafe for drinks, they also have what they call their Uchi Cafe which has a range of delicious baked treats. There are options like fresh donuts, danishes, cakes, and more. Lawson's also offers the Lawson's Select brand of sliced bread, rolls, melon pan - it's basically their own internal distributor that makes the goods. 7-11 is a close second. It offers similar 7-11 distributed breads and pastries - but just not at the same scale and variety that Lawson's offered. Family Mart serves as a distributor for other companies breads/pastries, so it can be a bit hit or miss. 

Winner: Lawson's.

Hot Food

Family Mart has been struggling a bit with our categories so far - but not here! Family Mart prides itself on its hot food, with it's "Famima Kitchen" range. They have all your standard Japanese convenience store items (like American Dogs, croquettes, fried chicken) but they also had a much wider variety of fried and fresh hot goods than their competitors - and they also still had their Nikuman and Pizzaman still on sale. We often see that coming into the warmer months here, most convenience stores seem to curtail the Nikuman sales, but they're one of our favorite on-the-go snacks. We would also say that their nikuman and pizzaman are the tastiest of all the convenience stores, so there are some definite bonus points there.

Coming in second here was Lawson's. They do seem to put a bit more focus on their sweet over savory options, though. 7-11 came last with this round, as they were offering the same hot food products as you can get at the other convenience stores in Japan.

Winner: Family Mart

That's our take for the first 5 categories on the list - I'll be back soon with the second part of the article, covering the other categories! As always thanks for reading and happy travels!

this is japan