Many people do not know this, but one of the reasons that many Taiwanese people living abroad miss Taiwan is because of how convenient life can be. Moreover, we miss the convenience stores. You might wonder, what’s so special about convenience stores? The ones you can find in the US are usually the place you go to when you don’t have time to do proper shopping and need something quick, or they are just next to a gas station that you happen to stop by. Not that they are so much different in Taiwan, but the convenient stores in Taiwan really do offer a lot relative to the size of the store as well as the staff.
Convenience stores 便利商店 in Taiwan are not just for convenience, but almost a necessity. There are more than 9 800 convenience stores all over Taiwan. In an area of 35 980 sq km and a population of 23 million, Taiwan has the highest density of convenience stores in Asia-Pacific, possibly also in the world. To put this into perspective, just imagine one convenience store on every block of street in Taiwan. You will also find them in sports arena, universities, MRT stations, hospitals, train stations, and airports. It’s not unusual to find two convenience stores, sometimes of the same brand, across the street from or within a couple hundred meters of each other, or even next to each other.
So what is it that makes these stores so popular? We’ll start with what they sell. Back when convenience stores were first introduced to Taiwan (7-Eleven first opened in 1979), they mostly sell drinks, newspaper, ramen, snacks, cigarettes, and some basic daily-use items. Some of them also provide simple heated food, such as hot dogs, buns, or tea eggs 茶葉蛋. However, the variety of merchandise sold increased drastically as many stores also began selling ready-to-eat meals such as onigiri, sandwiches, bentos, and noodle bowls. Today, it is not uncommon for many people to buy their daily meals from the convenience stores.
Because of the high density of these convenience stores, many other services were also introduced in the last decade. Today, you can pay almost all your bills at a convenience store, be it for electricity, water, telephone, TV, Internet, parking, insurance, tuition, or even for credit card. The stores will also take payment for your traffic ticket. You can also send packages, copy and/or fax documents, buy train tickets, send your cloth to dry-clean from a convenience store. Many stores also have an ATM machine. Some stores might even have toilets. Many companies, some of them online, also provide in-store pick-up through convenience stores. Recently many stores also start providing wireless-Internet.
Did we mention that convenience stores are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year in Taiwan?
Below are the four major chains of convenience stores you are bound to see in Taiwan:
In Taiwan, 7-Eleven is owned by President Chain Store Corporation 統一超商股份有限公司 under Uni-President Enterprises Corporation 統一企業股份有限公司 as an oversea franchise. It is the same 7-Eleven you see in other countries, and also the most popular convenience store in Taiwan, with 4849 stores as of January 27, 2013.
FamilyMart Company, Limited is a Japanese convenience store chain, which opened its first store in Taiwan in 1988 as an oversea franchise. It has 2848 stores in Taiwan as of January 11, 2013.
Hi-Life is a Taiwanese convenience store chain, owned by Hi-Life International Co., Ltd 萊爾富國際股份有限公司. It opened its first stores in Taipei in 1989. It has more than 1250 stores as of December 2011.
OK·MART (OK超商) first opened in 1988 as in cooperation with the American Circle K Stores. However, the cooperation ceased in 2007, and OK·MART is entirely Taiwanese-owned. It has around 980 store as of the end of 2012.