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Retail vending machines

Posted 06 August Sarah Abraham

We’re all familiar with vending machines. Situated in high footfall areas such as train stations, shopping centres and gyms(?!), we all know a chocolate bar after a gym session is a reward, right?

Vending machines typically sell those tempting treats and refreshments, but the world of these machines is slowly transforming. With retailers struggling to keep bricks and mortar afloat could they be the solution? Vending machines allow for longer opening hours, don’t include hefty rent prices and can be moved to all the best locations. Brands can easily get in front of large volumes of consumers by placing them in high footfall areas.

Whether it be snacks, beauty products, accessories or even jewellery the opportunities for using vending machines as retail spaces are endless. Some brands are even beginning to adopt the use of vending machines as pop-up shops.

Uniqlo the Japanese fashion retailer use vending machines to overcome challenging periods for bricks and mortar. Distributed across the US in airports and shopping centres. Customers can purchase their favourite fashion goods using the touch screen to select their items and sizing needed. The goods are then dispensed in boxes and cans. If you want to return the products they can easily be returned like normal, in-store or mail return.

With Uniqlo being one of the largest retailers behind Zara and H&M this move is strategic and a forward-thinking approach. They’re able to get in front of more customers. Tapping into the consumer who doesn’t like waiting in queues and wants their products at the click of a button. With online becoming a huge threat to bricks and mortar the use of vending machines means providing consumers with a quick and easy service.

Vending machines can also be seen as a quick quirky sale. Because it’s not a fixed area the location of vending machines is easily changeable. Meaning dotting them around the country wouldn’t result in as high costs as renting out physical stores would be. Items inside can easily be changed and made more bespoke to target audiences in certain locations.

Nike has used pop up vending machines in their marketing strategies to engage audiences while creating a sense of exclusivity. The machine popped up in various locations around the US including New York. Stocking various goods such as hats, socks and shirts. However, people can only purchase items with Nikefuel points. Points which are accumulated on their Nike+ devices. When going into a Nike store as a consumer you have the power to pick up items and purchase them but with this vending machine, it’s for ‘exclusive’ customers only. It makes consumers who are part of this elite club feel valued and appreciated by the brand as they’re part of the selected few to have access to these products.

Vending machines have also been used in a clever way to create conversation. In 2015 there was a social experiment in Berlin, focusing on fast fashion and cheap clothing. Consumers were originally drawn into the advertisement of €2 T-shirt from the vending machine. However, when they paid their money and selected their size, they were presented with a video of the workers who make these clothes. After the video, they could then choose whether they still make the purchase or donate the money.

This technique is being used to sell goods and do good. We’re beginning to see our everyday supermarkets uniquely using vending machines. Iceland is an example, introducing the ‘reverse vending machine’ into stores across the UK. The machine can be used by customers to dispense their plastic bottles to be recycled. In exchange, customers are rewarded with a 10p voucher for every plastic bottle. A win-win for the environment, customer and company! Iceland creates an incentive for customers to make purchases while also doing good for the environment.

The list of examples goes on. With retail vending machines becoming a more popular technique for brands to use. We could begin to see more quirky and innovative concepts. Could vending machines be the new bricks and mortar?

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