Welcome to the New Era of Automation
When Netflix put the Video Rental Retail stores in their coffins, there was still a sizable segment of people who missed the convenience, were suspect of a mail-order or streaming subscription service, or simply didn’t have the connectivity to enjoy it.
Enter, RedBox. A new smart-automated adaptation of the Blockbuster model, scaled down to be easy-to-manage, easy-to-implement, and easy to turn a profit.
By taking advantage of the heroic rise in vending technology, RedBox stands tall and noticeably at locations with high traffic. RedBox is not the only company or other industry taking advantage of the new era of automation.
Vending machines have evolved beyond the pull a level and get a product transaction. Sophisticated interfaces now offer everything from custom-baked pizzas to stake boards to smartphones to premium cosmetics that mix up to 48 shades of nail polish on demand. A mix of smart preservation, temperature control, cashless payments, and touch-screen interfaces transform what was a drab exchange into a delightful and rewarding experience.
Two million next generation units have been deployed globally by 2016. Two drivers fuel this growth.
Technology, as noted, offers a palpable brand experience, often better than an actual retail store. Take Nike’s vending machine for example; members of the Nike tribe can redeem FuelBand points for athletic gear.
Big data and the dream of intelligent analytics serve as the other key motive force. While these smart machines delight consumers, perhaps its greatest strength resides the B-2-B, public service, and industrial sectors. One of the fastest growing uses of this megatrend is reinventing inventory control and the distribution of supplies in warehouses, advanced machinery facilities, and construction. Grainger claims that vending is their fastest growth trend in their Annual Report, and the lead area of perceived growth for the company.
Thousands of machines line the halls of the blue-collar world that creates and supports the infrastructure of our era. In these rows of machines you can find everything a worker needs to handle a job: tools, safety vests, boots, sun protection—and every single item is accessed by a code that is tied to a job number that helps account for costs down to the penny. This wave of automation revolutionizes the concept of the company store or canteen into one of the most pragmatic, even savvy, uses of big data.
Then, there is Best Buy, Sephoria, and even a local farmer’s market where you can dispense only certified organic produce. Not to mention a pharmacy in Canada where you can get your refills. Don’t worry if you need help, just hit a button and video conferencing connects you to the right person to get the answers you need quickly. These examples stand as just a few of the ways branded experiences are made crafted as premium mini-stores-in-a-box.
This wave of innovation creates usable, human-centered, brand-bolstering experiences that make sense for everyone in the value chain: the consumer or customer, the products that fill the machines, the brands that sponsor them, and also breathes new life into the concept of placement.
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Michael Graber is the co-founder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis. Follow Michael @SouthernGrowth
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