Vending machines poised to take retail to a new dimension
Friday, September 21, 2018
As long-standing merchants such as Sears and Toys R Us shutter, retailers continue to feel the pressure to perform "in person." When we discussed this topic more than a year ago, commercial landlords were turning to restaurants and food markets to help fill the void. Now, it seems that a more technological approach could be seen in the future — with the use of vending machines.
A beloved vendor of chips, chocolate bars, and carbonated beverages, the humble vending machine has dished out a more diverse lineup of products for sale over the years, from makeup, to books, to electronics. Today’s machines accept a lot more than coins as payment, too.
The most recent occurrence putting vending machines in the spotlight has come just in time for the New York City and Chicago Marathons. Lululemon, the yoga and athletic apparel brand, has set up a "Run Stop Shop" in each city, providing runners with water, electrolyte-enhanced drink tablets, energy bars, energy gels, tampons, sunscreen, and more. The pop-ups serve as a runner’s paradise, should they forget to pack the essentials on race day.
Running until Nov. 8, the products will be available for free. The only caveat? Users must provide their email address and share the experience on social media, with the hashtags #thesweatlifeNYC or #thesweatlifeCHI. Sharing the experience not only creates buzz for the marathons and Lululemon, but encourages others to partake in the pop-up.
If you aren’t a marathon runner, fear not. A Walmart Supercenter in Sherman, Texas, has set up a vending machine for grocery orders.
Users must first place and pay for an order online. Once they arrive at Walmart, without interacting with an employee, they are able to retrieve their haul from the 11-by-127-foot kiosk within seconds. The kiosk has been built with refrigerators and freezers inside to keep food safe and fresh.
There are plans in the works for a similar structure to be present for nongrocery orders in 700 stores across the United States.
With vending machines expanding their horizons across the nation, how will this impact brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers? There are a few things to consider.
Evolving methods of payment
Chips and chocolate bars were perfect for spare pocket change. But you won’t catch consumers purchasing groceries or clothes with coins. Vending machines have already turned cashless, encouraging shoppers to pay with plastic. As it stands, 45 percent of Americans are already paying with debit cards, 29 percent with credit, and the rest with cash.
However, card payments could soon be abandoned.
There are five vending machines in the Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. To make a purchase on them, users must download the Toro digital wallet app and register their personal information.
To proceed with a payment, the app will convert money from a credit card into digital cash. Customers will then use their fingerprint or a QR code to complete the transaction.
It doesn’t stop there. Some retailers are considering accepting cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and biometrics.
Naturally, this raises several questions about privacy issues. Despite the prevalence of a cashless society, will consumers want their personal information stored by a vending machine?
As these new methods of payment continue to rise, so too must the level of security guarding the systems on these machines. With hacks and leaks an unfortunate circumstance of modern technology, cybersecurity must be at an all-time high to prevent the loss of information.
Has a vending machine ever taken your change, but had technical issues spitting out your chocolate bar, leaving you hungry and a few quarters poorer? The vending machines of the future aren’t likely to suffer from these shortcomings.
With backing from major merchants, stocked items, as well as payments, are tracked. As with any other form of retail, retailers are seeking to provide a smooth purchasing journey for shoppers.
Circling back to Walmart's Texas vending machines — should a customer have an issue with their grocery order, there is a lengthy paper trail that can be relied upon. Additionally, being located at a Walmart store allows for close proximity to store employees that will be able to address the matters at hand.
What’s next for vending machines? The technology is rapidly growing in North America, but China is poised to become the primary market for intelligent vending machines. Cheap production costs and limited privacy barriers have led to their growth, as 4.5 million machines are expected to be up and running by 2023.
For the current retail landscape, vending machines provide a nostalgic yet new experience for consumers. With physical offerings and electronic payments, vending machines seek to offer the best of both worlds in the years to come.
For the time being, the technology will continue to grow and innovate. There could very well be vending machine "stores" on the horizon, adding a new dimension to this retail technology as we know it.
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