What springs to mind when one envisages a vending machine? A facility for a cheap late night snack at a train station perhaps, or maybe a cheeky can of Coke before a lecture? Needless to say, it’s a usually a quick fix for all your confectionery based desires. However, something kind of crazy is happening across the United States right now and no, it has nothing to do with Trump.
Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo is rolling out vending machines full of their most practical clothes in airports and shopping malls throughout America at the moment. Why? Uniqlo has previously struggled to penetrate the star spangled market so this is presumably a risk-free way of garnering consumer recognition in a bid to get their foot in the door. According to Hiroshi Taki, the chief executive of Uniqlo USA, the concept was designed to add convenience to the lives of customers on their travels. Predominantly selling lightweight shirts and jackets, the machines are a fuss-free way to add a last minute necessity to one’s luggage without having to step foot into a shop. Customers simply choose their preferred style and size on a touchscreen interface then insert their card and away they go. At present, the Uniqlo To Go machines are located in Oakland Airport (California), Houston Airport, and in malls across New York and L.A., but there are plans to introduce even more. Who knows, these machines could spread even further than just stateside.
The high street company, owned by Fast Retailing Co Ltd, claim that their values are simplicity, quality, and longevity, which are all evident in their tagline ‘simple made better.’ They also boast that they are constantly innovating and evolving because ‘your life never stops changing’. To be fair to the brand, this way of thinking quite clearly translates into the new Uniqlo To Go method of shopping. It seems the way we are shopping really is evolving, although it’s difficult to see how this would work on a larger scale since each machine can only hold a limited amount of stock at a time and there are bound to be technical malfunctions every so often.
At the very least, this revolutionary technology may signal the end of any “my flight’s about to leave but I’m stuck in a queue”-related frustration. But could this also spell the end for brick and mortar stores full stop? E-commerce shopping is already a massive threat to the livelihood of high street stores and in theory, if shop assistants aren’t required anymore then surely there isn’t a need for a physical shop. Despite this, 94% of all retail sales are still generated in stores (according to eMarketer, 2014) so consumers obviously still enjoy actively ‘going shopping’ and trying before they buy, something that can’t be achieved online or through a vending machine. The virtual customer experience is gradually becoming more of a reality but only time will tell whether traditional retail stores can stand their ground or not.
Words: Kate Dooley
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