Soon, some shoppers will be expected to say “Excuse me, but please charge me more.”
It’s only been five years since sales tax in Japan jumped from five to eight percent, and consumers are set to get hit in the wallet again this fall. In October, the sales tax rate is scheduled to rise to 10 percent, although there are a few thankful exceptions.
For one, food and drinks (not counting alcoholic beverages) will remain at eight percent, but with a catch: the lower sales tax is only for items being purchased for consumption elsewhere. For example, if you’re buying a cake at a grocery store, sales tax is eight percent, but if you’re buying one in a restaurant, it’s 10 percent. However, this leaves convenience stores in a bit of a gray area.
For years, Japanese convenience stores have been far ahead of their overseas counterparts in terms of the variety and quality of the food and drinks they offer, and in recent years, several of them have set up “eat-in spaces,” counters or tables with chairs where you can sit down and enjoy the bento boxed lunch, hot bottle of green tea, or seasonal Pocky chocolate sticks you just bought.
▼ Some fancy eat-in spaces even have tablets, USB ports, and power plugs.
So the question becomes whether sales tax at convenience stores should be eight or 10 percent, and the answer is both. Legally, if you’re buying food and drinks to go, the rate is eight percent, and if you’re buying it to consume on the premises, it’s 10.
The problem, though, is that you make purchases of both types at the same register, so how will the clerk know which tax rate to ring you up with? Simple: if you’re going to be using the eat-in corner, you’re supposed to, out of the goodness of your heart, tell the clerk at the register so that they’ll know to charge you the extra two percent.
That’s the solution the Japan Franchise Association has decided on, anyways, since it doesn’t want to put the burden on employees to have to ask customers about their eating plans. The organization will also be printing and distributing posters for convenience store owners of all brands to put up in their stores asking customers who plan to use the eat-in space to tell the clerk.
That procedure implies that if you say nothing, you’ll be rung up at the cheaper eight-percent rate, and it’ll be interesting to see how if plays out in practice. It seems like there’s an obvious loophole in keeping your mouth shut, then walking over to the eat-in space to chow down on your purchase after you’ve already paid. On the other hand, Japan is a famously rule-abiding society, but then again it’s also a painfully shy one, and the relative lack of small talk and chit-chat in shopping transactions makes it likely that some shoppers will feel awkward announcing “I’m gonna eat this here,” especially if it’s something they feel particularly self-conscious about, like eating a whole sakura cake by yourself in the middle of the night.