Last week at the Denver airport, ready to board a four-hour flight to Boston and excited to watch a freshly downloaded movie, I had a horrible realization. The right side speaker on my headphones wasn't working and it was going to drive me nuts.
The headphones that failed me weren't fancy, but the horror had more to do with the bad timing. Pre-boarding for the flight had started, and I was a few moving sidewalks away from a store that would have a replacement. It's a long flight and I was looking forward to watching Eclipse (don't judge).
Given the dire situation, I ended up buying headphones from a Best Buy vending machine. Maybe I just haven't been paying attention, but I don't remember ever seeing anyone buying something from one before (and I don't think that I'm alone, because I actually drew a crowd of on-lookers), but it was an intuitive and pleasant shopping experience. And, besides being quick and easy, there were a host of tools available for me to research and evaluate the purchase that I was about to make.
With a non-traditional vending purchase now under my belt, I've been thinking about it ' are self-serve machines the super-convenient Jetson-esque future of shopping suited perfectly for the tech-savvy and time-starved? Or, just another way for retailers to extend their brands, create word-of-mouth, and cost-effectively sample their products?
Theoretically, the consumer shopping experience is not all that different than online shopping (while you can't touch/try the product, you can research it), but with the benefit of seeing it and enjoying the instant gratification of having the product upon purchase.
Besides Best Buy, other retailers and brands in the self-serve vending game at airports and malls include The Body Shop, Sephora, and ProActive, but the one that I found particularly interesting is the uber-luxury vending machine called the Semi-Automatic that can be found at the Mondrian South Beach. Said machine offers the intuitive travel staples like a toothbrush (albeit, designer brand) for hotel guests, along with Bentley convertibles and condos (say what?), with prices ranging from $10 to $1 million+.
Whether these vending machines become the preferred retail channel of the future or remain more of a marketing tool, I think they're going to pick up steam, catering to consumers' desire for ease and convenience. What is your take on where they go and what they sell?