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Machines are selling top brands in malls, airports and elsewhere

Originally published on ICSC by Anna Robaton

Vending machines typically dispense soda, candy or snacks. But a growing number of brands and retailers are using them to expand their reach into malls, airports and other high-traffic locations — free of many of the costs associated with operating traditional stores or kiosks.

ZoomSystems, a San Francisco–based designer, provider and operator of vending machines, or what it calls automated-retail stores, has been at the forefront of the trend. Proactiv (a skin-care company known largely for acne treatments) and Best Buy were among the first companies to use the automated ZoomShops to sell their products. Today ZoomSystems (a subsidiary of Swyft Inc.) works with about two dozen brands, and its ZoomShop network covers some 1,500 locations — malls, airports, hotels and military bases, as well as stores. Benefit Cosmetics, CVS Pharmacy, Dollar Shave Club, Nespresso and Uniqlo are also among the company’s clients.

These ZoomShops are no ho-hum vending machines; they are designed to help capture the identity of each brand. To that end, they are equipped with interactive, touch-screen monitors that provide product information and, in some cases, display video content. They are equipped also with credit-card readers and with receipt printers. That last feature enables customers who may need to return a purchase to do so by mail and/or at a nearby store.

ZoomSystems monitors the machines remotely, restocks and services them weekly, and also provides on-call service. Moreover, the company analyzes data to help retailers and brands develop product assortments tailored to specific locations and markets. It works with clients under a fee-for-service model that covers such things as the cost of renting space for the machines in a mall common area or some other location. The largest ZoomShop model is about 100 square feet.

“Our core business is being able to make the shopping experience easy for the guest and ensure the brand is represented in its full view the best possible way,” said Kenneth Howe, ZoomSystems’ general manager of retail.

Some digitally native brands have used ZoomShop units as a cost-effective way to make the leap into brick-and-mortar retail. Online men’s grooming brand Dollar Shave Club worked with ZoomSystems to design a mall-based unit featuring a glass-enclosed, product-display area that changes from opaque to clear with the touch of a button.

As attractive as the novelty of such machines might be to consumers, Howe says they also like the idea of having the product information at their fingertips, rather than needing to seek help from a store clerk who may not even be well informed, or who may only be overeager to make a sale. ZoomShops also give shoppers the instant gratification that comes with getting a purchase on the spot instead of having to wait around for an at-home delivery, he says.

“People want what they want, when they want it,” said Howe. “They also don’t want to be sold.”


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