First up, an upscale hotel in Miami, The Mondrian South Beach, opened in December sporting a giant vending machine selling luxury goods in the lobby. It is called The Semi-Automatic and it is supposedly a replacement for the now-passe hotel gift shop concept. Just swipe a credit card and you can be the new owner of 24-karat gold handcuffs! Just what I always wanted!
If you happen to live in Santa Monica, a similar technology, called U*tique, was recently unveiled at Fred Segal. However, this slick machine dispenses products more near and dear to my heart from brands like Bliss, Lancome, C.O. Bigelow and Lipstick Queen. Not only can the items be purchased from U*tique, but it also displays product information and recommendations. Supposedly it will also provide some ability to sample products, but it's not clear to me how that works.
Even more of these inventions are coming down the line from IBM, Intel and even Microsoft. Instead of a vending machine, how would you feel about accessing a helpful kiosk in the middle of your favorite store? Rather than a salesperson, the kiosk would make suggestions and answer questions, thereby allowing avoidance of all human contact when shopping. One intriguing idea is the Virtual Makeover which would simulate sampling beauty products on a computer screen rather than at the makeup counter.
"The kiosk has a camera to capture the shopper’s image and a scanner to record the product the shopper wants to try. Consumers can walk up to the kiosk, swipe a barcode for a foundation cream, and see how it looks on the onscreen image of their faces."
This kind of sounds cool and definitely more sanitary than the usual sampling options. One concern would be getting colors right. How do I know that what has been translated onto my face in this machine is going to look the same in real life?
One person interviewed for the article fantasizes about a sales associate-less shopping experience in the future. Stores could probably save money by replacing their sales staff with machines. But the point they are missing is that fact that it is definitely harder to resist pressure to buy from an actual person than it is from a machine. It takes exactly no effort at all for me to ignore recommendations on amazon.com, for example. But resisting the hard sell from a commission-hungry employee is difficult even when I'm feeling particularly skillful. Also, what would be the advantage of even going shopping when you can sit on your couch and have the same experience with the internet? People go to stores because they want to have the shopping experience, complete with pushy sales folks. I am doubtful that any machine is going to replace that. But, I guess we shall see.