Vending machines aren’t just for corn chips anymore.
As anyone who’s been to airport lately can attest, it is now quite common to see iPods sold via vending machines. There are even, believe it or not, devices that will sell you wine, shoes, and prescription medicines. Still, many in the industry have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea of a vending machine for jewelry.
But at last weekend’s Berkshire Hathaway shareholder weekend, Richline introduced its latest brainstorm: Precious Express, a kiosk that sells jewelry via credit card.
According to Richline chief marketing officer Mark Hanna, the idea came about when the company was talking with its retail customers about “the next generation of point of sale.”
“The challenge was reinventing point of sale for the consumer in a digital area,” he says. “As we toured stores, we got the distinct feeling that there was very little service in some stores. And in the stores where there was service, it wasn’t really oriented toward the price-point goods. So this was a culmination of that process.”
The machines can stock up from 72 to 144 items, and are meant to hold merchandise priced from $50 to $150—mainly impulse items like hoop earrings. They are intended to be stationed in high-volume jewelry stores—and not be standalones like the jewelry machines that Gitanjali has stationed through Mumbai. But that could happen one day.
“I think in the future it could have applications in airports and professional office buildings,” he says. “But we don’t sell to the consumer and I think it needs the credibility of a good jewelry retailer with it.”
All this is one more example of offline brick-and-mortar retailing mimicking the online experience. (Here’s another.) The advantages to buying a product via machine are: It’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require human interaction. (Yes, to some people, no human interaction is a plus.)
Of course, this machine—and Gitanjali’s—stock only low- and mid-range price-point items. (Gitanjili’s highest-priced item is $600.) We are currently a long way from selling high value jewelry via kiosks. Even among customers of online retailer Blue Nile, for example, some 50 percent prefer to talk to a customer service person before they pull the trigger. (That is not unusual for jewelry dot-coms, if unusual for dot-coms overall.)
But clearly consumers are becoming increasingly used to buying in this way. Hanna notes that the machine made quite a few sales when it debuted under the Borsheim’s banner during the shareholder weekend.
“We were selling Warren Buffett collectibles at a Berkshire conference, that’s like selling peanuts at a circus,” he says. “But 80 percent of people were totally comfortable with it. There was a percentage that didn’t like putting their credit card in there. I see it like ATMs. It took a while for people to get comfortable with it, but they did.”
Of course, old timers and branding purists may recoil: Is a vending machine really the proper presentation for an elegant product like jewelry?
“We want to create an attractive vehicle, and I think you will see customization of the machine to meet the retailer’s own ambience,” he says. “And maybe there will be some people who think it is ugly. But some people will think it is cool.”
You can see customers interacting with the Richline vending machine in this video: