From Beauty to Apparel, Brands Are Experimenting with Vending Machines

Vending machines could lead a new round of contactless retail.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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Twitter recently served me a delightful retail newsbite for once: the opening of the first yarn vending machine.

We don’t see this often. While vending machines outside the U.S. have long stocked apparel and crafting items, 72% of U.S. vending machines are still dedicated to pantry snacks, per IbisWorld data. Of those that aren’t...

  • Uniqlo opened a handful of vending machines for its best-selling items in 2017.
  • Benefit Cosmetics began operating beauty vending machines in 2013.

Change is coming. Vending sales this year are projected to decline without office snack breaks. But vending providers are adjusting to 1) embrace non-edible products and 2) adopt contactless payments.

“Now that consumers prioritize health and safety just as much–if not more–than they do convenience, vending machines are becoming more and more attractive,” Luke Saunders, founder at meal vending service Farmer’s Fridge, told Retail Brew. Tech advancements are sweetening the deal:

  • Vengo Labs, a firm creating next-gen vending solutions, has developed vending machines that allow mobile ordering.
  • PopCom, an automated retail provider, integrates brands’ e-comm inventory with its vending options—so shoppers can make immediate purchases and home delivery orders at once.

Convenience ≠ skimpy service. “Vending machines provide an opportunity to create a brand experience without staff or a large retail footprint,” said Harvey Hodd, CEO of Blueprint, a conversational commerce platform.

  • “Beauty [and] self-care brands could create an experience where customers could have a conversation with an expert on the screen to get advice on which products best fit your skin type.”
  • “Home essentials brands could place machines at critical points where their consumers are most in-need and can't wait 48 hours for delivery.”

IRL application: Buff City Soap is developing soap-stocked vending machines to roll out in 2021, e-comm director Sanjay Jenkins told me. The format isn’t finalized yet, but Jenkins shared some hints: “In front of a store, a vending machine that shows [...] soap being made coupled with a lead generation system that delivers a free sample bar might be the best activation.”

Going full vend

Building interactive vending solutions is so much more than making sure items don’t get stuck in the retrieval flap. Retailers need to consider...

Location. Vending machines perform best in “spaces that are conducive to an impulse purchase” according to Saunders.

  • That used to be near an office or a gym—now, it could be outside a larger retailer or in front of a closed storefront.
  • Location also determines display, Jenkins said. Storefront vending machines may have more elaborate, interactive displays, while travel hubs stick to basics.

Inventory. Every vending expert I spoke with agreed that vending favors frequently replenished items: think beauty, health supplies, or in a 2020 twist, PPE.

Bottom line: Vending retail has product constraints, but it can also inject some ✨surprise and delight✨ into an expedited experience. Just watch.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Our free retail newsletter delivers insights to keep retail leaders and decision-makers up to date.