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.