Q&A: Why CVS And Uniqlo Are Messing Around With Vending Machines

CVS is set up 25 vending machines in the Northeast, selling everything from makeup remover to healthy snacks to earbuds. Uniqlo, the Japanese fast-fashion brand that has stumbled in its store expansion plan, is setting up 10 vending machines in U.S. airports. And brands are increasingly using vending machines as part of publicity ploys, like Snapchat in its Spectacles launch. We asked Lee Peterson, executive vice president of strategy and design at WD Partners, a customer experience company in Columbus, Ohio, to explain why the 140-year-old vending machine is new again.

Q. So vending machines have been around since the 1880s. Why are they getting so much attention now?

A. It started with Best Buy, putting machines in airports about five years ago. It’s another way of addressing the 



way people shop now. Consumers think, ‘I can buy anything, anywhere, anytime.’ So to have something to offer them when they really can’t — when they’re stuck at an airport or in a dorm, for example — is helpful.

Q. So is this trend really about filling a need? Or is it also about sampling? Best Buy is a widely known, but Benefit, a high-end cosmetic brand that’s also in many airports, isn’t.

A. I think it is mostly about familiarity and convenience—shoppers buying products they’re familiar with and need right now, like laundry soap from CVS or a computer cord from Best Buy. I’ve noticed they do sell high-priced items, even cameras and iPhones, and I wonder how many of those they actually sell.

But this is all part of what retailers should be doing, to combat the threat of online shopping. If you think of the whole customer journey, this is part of it. Should stores still explore other ideas to introduce people to their brands, like pop-up stores? Sure. Vending machines aren’t going to solve all their problems, but it’s one more way to connect, to offer convenience. This is just a small part of the larger picture.

Q. Will they make money?

A. Revenue-wise, no. CVS has something like 7,300 locations so vending machines won’t move the needle. But it’s a brand awareness factor, and that can be valuable. 

RA. Yes, we did some research several years back, and Millennials love the idea of interactive vending machines. Boomers, not so much. But younger people grew up with text. They just don’t like phone calls. We see it in the appeal of online ordering for groceries and restaurants, and even restaurant concepts like Eatsa, which enables you to get high-quality fast-food really fast, without any human contact. And Walmart is having a lot of success with its pickup towers. People like machines.

1 comment about "Q&A: Why CVS And Uniqlo Are Messing Around With Vending Machines".
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  1. Jeff Doerr from Networld Alliance, September 18, 2017 at 2:37 p.m.

    Automated stores simultaneously deliver the best of both worlds - the intuitiveness of the online experience along with the immediacy of bricks & mortar.  Benefits include: brand awareness in high traffic locations, convenience, customer engagement/acquisition/loyalty, incremental sales, endless aisle-BOPIS, promotion of in-store specials,  real-time customer data, etc.  As a result, automated stores will soon be considered an integral part of both retailer and brand omnichannel strategies.  Want to explore? 

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