Japan's Aeon teams with FamilyMart in smart money

TOKYO, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Japan's second-largest retailer Aeon Co Ltd 8267.T, aiming to expand its share in the growing electronic money market, said FamilyMart Co Ltd 8028.T has agreed to accept its smart money cards at the convenience store chain's 7,300 stores.

Aeon, the operator of Jusco supermarkets, and bigger rival Seven & I 3382.T began their own smart money card services two years ago as a tool to lock in customers, and have been looking to increase the number of other stores that accept them.

Aeon and Seven & I, which runs the Seven-Eleven convenience stores, have each issued about 7 million smart cards, which users charge with money and then use to pay at stores by holding them over readers set at cash registers.

Aeon and FamilyMart, Japan’s third-biggest convenience store chain, said on Wednesday that shoppers would be able to use Aeon’s smart money cards at FamilyMart stores in Japan from autumn of this year.

“We will keep actively seeking partners outside our group, which in turn will improve the convenience for our card users,” Hiroshi Yokoo, Aeon vice president, said at a joint news conference.

Still a fraction of overall transactions, Japan's smart money market has been expanding rapidly, as a growing number of stores and restaurants have been accepting cards of issuers such as East Japan Railway 9020.T.

Japan’s smart money market jumped fourfold to about 652 billion yen ($7.3 billion) in the year ended March 2008 from the previous year, and is estimated to top 1 trillion yen this business year, Nomura Research Institute said.

The research firm said the market is likely to triple over the next five years. ($1=89.62 Yen) (Reporting by Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Chris Gallagher)