You may have caught a previous post here on iPod vending machines.
During a trip through LAX, I noticed that these machines are being used by Best Buy to sell a variety of electronics to bored travellers – headphones, flip style camcorders, and of course, iPods.
Personally, I was just curious when I was snapping photos, but as I backed away, one fellow actually went and used it.
As he made his selection, the local security guard looked on, either nervous, or just curious that someone was using the thing.
Is selling consumer electronics in this way actually viable?
Before I answer this question, I’ll relate an event that happened a few hours ago.
On our pilgrimage to the local Ikea today, we aimed our trolley straight for the self-service lanes. There was one employee – an older lady – looking after the six self-service checkouts, so she came and did our checking out for us.
This annoyed us.
Here’s why this happened. The Ikea assistant believed that getting service at a checkout is better than not getting service, and she wanted to help. We, the two customers, did not.
Please get back the the point
I would argue that there’s a generational shift happening. Consider these two scenarios.
- Generally older folk: go into a Best Buy, a Staples, a Currys or Dixons and chat up the salesperson. They don’t know too much about technology, so they’re more likely to take their advice on what to buy – and that advice will be to buy something in the shop that’s in stock.
- Generally younger folk: research everything they can about a category online before even thinking about buying it. They might buy online or in a store – they don’t value as much whatever added services might be available in store. In short – they can serve themselves.
So – if a product is strongly price controlled and generally very reliable – like the iPod – these weird looking contraptions will offer an element of convenience. 24 hour service. No one getting in your way. All while offering the same price as everywhere else, instant access to the product, and no delivery fee.
Balance that against the natural caution of getting a 300 dollar product out of a vending machine. As the machines get more popular, this caution might dissipate, and the machines become more viable.
Most new businesses have a chicken and egg problem – this one, it seems, is no exception.