There was a time when the only thing vending machines were good for were housing candy, soda or cigarettes, but innovation in vending technology, combined with creative thinking by savvy corporations, have made automated branded retail an attractive sales channel for an array of different products.
BestBuy is now offering some of its most popular electronics in kiosk vending locations in malls; Benefit Cosmetics is selling beauty supplies through its Cosmetics Glam Up & Away Beauty branded retail machines in more than 30 airports; and Beverly Hills Caviar allows people to purchase fresh caviar through three automated machines in California.
Arthur Rumaya, co-creative director for Christie & Co., notes that with today’s lifestyles focused on customized convenience, vending machines fill this lifestyle need in similar fashion as such service and shopping innovations as Uber, the conversion of Starbuck’s walk-in only cafés into drive-thru locations, and Amazon drone delivery. Plus, vending machines require a very small footprint, and little management, and as such are more easily placed in areas where brick and mortar storefronts would not otherwise be possible, e.g. airports, hospitals, schools and health clubs.
“They are even showing up more and more in conventional spaces such as shopping malls and unconventional spaces such as offices,” he says. “If used properly, vending machines can open up an entirely new sales and marketing channel for a consumer packaged goods brand.”
In the eyes of the beholder
The secret to success, in many cases, comes down to the packaging. It is often said you eat with your eyes. This applies to not just food, but to all kinds of consumer goods.
“As consumers, we make most of our decisions based on what we see. This is even truer in a vending machine environment as it is impossible to touch, feel, smell or taste the product,” Rumaya says. “It is therefore even more important that the packaging substitutes for that experience. Packaging must by less cluttered, as it sits in a space with multiple other products and cannot be picked up to be reviewed individually. Type must be bold and visible. Callouts have to be at a minimum.”
Also, it is important to either show an image of the product contained within, or somehow show the product itself. In one glance, the consumer has to know what it is, what it does for them, and why it is better.
Kelly Stern, co-owner of Beverly Hills Caviar, helped design the look of the packaging for her product, knowing that the outside needed to speak to the consumers looking in. The first-of-its-kind vending machines offer a full selection of caviar and other luxury foods such as Italian truffles, escargot and flavored salts.
“I wanted to create a luxury, stylish modern look to the packaging; technology and tradition combined into a kiosk,” she says. “It’s an interesting experience for any shopper and it attracts people from all over. It’s something unique that can make any day special.”
Brian Wagner, vice president of consulting solutions for Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions at HAVI Global Solutions, notes most vending machines accommodate products of any package size, and can be retrofitted to work for anything. He feels packaging is a huge part of making sales viable, as people need to be attracted to what’s displayed to buy the items.
“I’m fascinated in my travels to see the number of things being sold through vending now,” he says. “Packaging can be a true enabler to being successful in the vending channel, helping machines to be full and stocked.”
Paul Schmidt, associate for Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions at HAVI Global Solutions, says the growth of 3-D printing will also play into all this, noting that the visuals will better display the product and make them more eye-catching to those looking in.
Challenge of the Machine
Only the front panel of a package is visible in an automated retail machine, and it’s an issue that any vended product must overcome.
“Fitting everything that needs to be shown on the package is also an issue as, in most vending spaces, only one face of the product is visible,” Rumaya says. “That, combined with the limited space on the package itself, makes it harder to create the experience necessary to sway a potential consumer to make the purchase.”
Additionally, in designing for any vending machine environment, it is vitally important to see how the device will hold the product. Will it sit upright? Will it be vertical to the consumer? These need to be answered to best determine how it is designed and where the key information and call outs are placed.
“Like any opportunity, the designer needs to study the vending machine, how it will deliver the product, how the machine is maintained, how the machine is lit, how often the products are restocked and by whom,” Rumaya says. “By studying the system end to end, the designer will likely consider new options to ensure the product can be seen, understood and purchased.”
Not all companies are willing to put the time and effort into creating new packaging for the vending machines, either. Alison Haljun, vice president, retail marketing for Benefit Cosmetics, notes that the products included in the company’s interactive kiosks are the same products and packaging that it sells in all its other channels.
“We do not create separate products or packaging for the Glam Up & Away Beauty Buses in Airports,” she says. “We do have a limited assortment, since we can’t include all of our products in the kiosk, but the packaging does not differ.”
That said, in a shared statement released by Benefit and ZoomSystems, who had partnered with the cosmetics brand on the creation of the interactive, branded, retail kiosks for travelers to have access to instant beauty solutions in major airports, Benefit Cosmetics CEO Jean Andre Rougeot notes that high-traffic airports are the next beauty battleground for prestige cosmetics brands and that Benefit grabbed the “first-mover advantage” when it introduced the machines in 2013.
Shaun Bowen, creative partner with B&B studio in London, recently designed packaging for Mother, a natural and healthy vending brand, and rather than disguise the machine with hokey wood-cladding and tufts of fake grass, it challenged the notion that nature and technology are fundamentally incompatible.
“We decided instead to celebrate automation, building a future-focused identity with a disarmingly human voice,” he says. “We created the name, identity and packaging for Mother, whose machines are restocked daily with fresh, handmade and healthy foods, as well as styling the machine and its user interface. The result is as seductive as it is surprising, reinventing vending to help the busy eat better. Put simply, it’s the future of delicious.”
The branded packaged goods that sit within the Mother machine is a mutually beneficial relationship as brands are chosen for their natural and healthy credentials, and both parties benefit from the association and attract new consumers to each other.
Rather than go large with packaging for the products, Mother’s packaging is kept quite simple, neutral and natural.
“Mother asks consumers to build a relationship with the machine itself—and uses a humanized brand identity, strong tone of voice and interactive user interface to do so,” Bowen says. “In many ways, it’s a superior experience to conventional retail, as the consumer is able to access product photography and nutritional information through the interface, bypassing the need for highly communicative packaging..”
The Final Word
Looking ahead, Bowen says that new technology will continue to reinvent the vending experience.
“The interface and its associated app create a more even playing field for lesser known brands wishing to compete in the vending environment, and gives consumers a greater degree of choice and control,” he says. “What’s important—and what Mother does so brilliantly—is making the automation feel human, and building a connection with consumers through strong branding and tone of voice in the absence of sales staff.”
As vending machines can be placed in places where other retail opportunities are not possible, they create a new sales channel for consumer packaged goods.
“As online buying became more and more popular, the need for consumers to touch a product prior to making a purchase became less important,” Rumaya says. “Consumers have become accustomed to making purchases site unseen and vending machines add the element of the ‘impulse buy’ to the equation. They are an important additional sales channels that many packaged consumer goods should take advantage of.”