Is the real world imitating our online shopping habits?
Vending machines spark new era of convenience shopping
Fifteen years ago, few of us would have considered buying a pair of jeans online or ordering the weekly shop, let alone booking a holiday or virtually viewing a house.
These days the world of online consumerism is an essential element of our 24-hour, instant-access lifestyle.
Doubters said it would never catch on – people wanted to touch products before they decided to buy, they wanted a personal service and a tailored customer experience. Clearly not. Deloitte’s Store of the Future report (March 2012) predicts that four out of ten shops will close down in the next five years as shoppers turn their backs on the high street in favour of the online marketplace.
Part of the success of online shopping is down to technological advances and e-tailers’ response to what customers demand. 360 degree views, super zooms, interactive tours and even no quibble returns policies have helped make online shopping a viable alternative to the real world high street.
A similar revolution is happening in the vending industry where the days of clunky, coin-rejecting drinks machines that needed a well aimed thump are well and truly behind us.
In Japan, where there is one vending machine for every 23 people, you can buy anything from music to live crabs. Following the earthquake of March 2011 when the country was crippled by blackouts, some even said vending machines offered a lifeline to residents.
Here in the UK, we’re starting to see the advantages too. Each year, 7 billion products are vended in the UK and the range and variety of what’s on offer is staggering – swimming goggles in leisure centres, protective clothing on the factory floor, toiletries in hotel lobbies and SIM cards at airports. Don’t worry, you can still buy a hot drink, but instead of coffee flavoured water in a flimsy cup, you’ll get a frothy cappuccino from a machine that can grind its own beans.
Even online retail behemoth Amazon is getting in on the act with their Amazon lockers service, allowing buyers to collect goods from secure vending locations around the country.
Dave Berman, director of VendEase, said: “Vending machines offer instant, 24 hour access in an age where convenience is King. Today’s machines are sophisticated and secure and businesses are switching on to the benefits for their customers and their staff.”
Most new machines operate via touch screen technology and there are emerging security technologies that can allow access to products through an identity code or even face, retinal or finger print recognition. Vending machines could even become glorified luggage lockers for online retailers. Goods get delivered to a conveniently located vending machine for customers to pick up using a unique identity system.
Searching for the right change is an irritation of the past. Modern payment options include debit or credit cards and, in five to ten years, systems like “wave-pay” (used with London’s Oyster Card) could become the norm. There’s even a machine in South Africa that will dispense a free drinks sample if you send a simple Tweet.