I’ve never really understood the rationale behind the name of the Japanese discount megastore chain Don Quijote. Tweaked spelling aside, it’s clearly supposed to be a reference to the character from the 16th century Miguel de Cervantes novel, but what does a mentally imbalanced would-be knight errant have to do with rock bottom prices, chaotic store layouts with hand-drawn signs everywhere, and a corporate mascot who’s a penguin wearing a Santa cap?
Maybe it’s got something to do with the word “quixotic,” which describes a humorously strong commitment to lofty ideals and helpfulness. Actually, that would be a pretty apt description of one of the store’s most unique policies: keeping a box of change at the register for customers to grab coins out of and use when paying for their purchases.
Don Quijote gives their branch managers rein in setting up their interiors. As a matter of fact, stepping into a Don Quijote is the polar opposite of Japan’s precisely organized department stores. Poke around in every nook and corner, and you’ll find groceries, furniture, electronics, and even sensual lotions and cosplay costumes.
▼ And all of it is cheap
But there’s one thing many layouts have in common, and that’s something called the Just Box set up next to the register. A reference to how it helps you have “just enough” change to pay for your purchases, the Just Box is a container filled with one-yen coins, and any customer can grab up to four of them to use when being rung up.
Granted, four yen is an almost negligible amount, equivalent to less than four U.S. cents at the current exchange rate. Still, the gesture is enough to put a smile on the face of many repeat customers, and not just because of the itsy bitsy economic gain.
See, in Japan, the smallest bill is 1,000 yen (US $8.70), which means that at any point in time, you’ve probably got a lot of loose change in your wallet or pocket.
▼ Case in point: I just got back from the convenience store…
500, 100, 50, and 10-yen coins are pretty handy, since you can use them in Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines or when buying train tickets from automated kiosks. Five and one-yen coins can’t, though. It’s always kind of a pain when you’re out shopping and find yourself just a single yen short of your total, since then you’re going to be stuck with a handful of clinking one-yen coins for the immediate future.
Don Quijote’s Just Box elegantly solves this problem, and online commenters are genuinely grateful.
“Thanks to the awesome Just Box, my wallet is never crammed with change after I do my shopping. I wish other chains had them too.”
“But doesn’t Don Quijote lose a lot of money because of it?”
“Even if a thousand people used the maximum amount, it’d only be 4,000 yen (US$34). They can’t be worried about that sort of loss if they’re going to be the biggest discount chain!”
While the Just Box is definitely a clever piece of marketing that’s earned Don Quijote a nice bit of customer goodwill, it also has another upside for the stores. With a broad customer base and locations in large population centers, branches can get incredibly busy. The Just Box not only saves consumers a few yen, it eliminates a digit worth of change that cashiers have to count out and hand over. Shaving a few seconds off the checkout time per customer keeps the lines buzzing along smoothly, which is critical for Don Quijote to sell in the quantities it needs to offset its lower prices.
▼ A Don Quijote employee holds up a sign indicating the end of the checkout line
Alas, it seems some Don Quijote branches are phasing out their Just Boxes. Instead, at certain locations, customers who register for the Don Quijote emailing list, then spend more than 1,000 yen ($8.50), can get the entire last digit of their bill waived. So really, even where it’s no longer around, the Just Box has been reborn as a new system that’s over twice as generous.
Very quixotic indeed.
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