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Rise of the Machines

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A high-profile illustration of this growth is the recent announcement of an exclusive agreement between Bellevue, Washington-based Coinstar Inc and Starbucks’ Seattle’s Best Coffee brand to roll out Coinstar’s new Rubi coffee kiosk in the grocery, drug and mass market retail channels, featuring Seattle’s Best beverages. The kiosks began rolling out this summer, with 500 units expected by the end of the year, and thousands of machines in the next several years.

Tapping the $40 billion U.S. coffee market, the Rubi kiosk grinds and brews fresh whole beans in a single-cup process, including mochas and vanilla lattes, with price points starting at $1. The kiosk, which takes up 9 square feet, eventually may be able to produce iced drinks as well, according to Coinstar CEO Paul Davis. Coinstar’s core automated retail businesses include Redbox self-service DVD and video game rental boxes, and Coinstar self-service coin-counting brands.
A veteran player in automated retail is Louisville, Colorado -based Kiosk Information Systems, which since 1993 has provided in-store loyalty kiosks used for immediate enrollment and loyalty card dispensing; order entry kiosks for deli, bakery and pharmacy orders; in-store job application/hiring center kiosks; in-store bill payment kiosks and multifunction money service platforms, offering services including ATM and check cashing; and self-service photo processing. Kiosk’s StoreBOT Automated Retail Platform is on the early end of the adoption curve, and many retailers are looking at the technology to solve concerns like inventory theft protection of small but expensive items such as razors and cosmetics, operational efficiency tied to automating inventory cycle counts and accelerated stocking, and revenue enhancement via the introduction of new, nontraditional product categories in supermarkets, most notably printer ink and video games, according to Marketing Director Cheryl Madeson.
With retail customers like The Kroger Co., Price Chopper, Hannaford Bros. and Schnuck Markets, Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based ADUSA has as its most popular supermarketproduct a self-ordering kiosk. “The popularity of self-ordering has increased signifi cantly in the past several years as supermarket operators have realised that it’s a required supplement to their existing customer service model, and more customers are demanding it,” says ADUSA CEO Juan Perez. “We already have self-ordering systems for the in-store, online and mobile, as well as queue management systems that increase labour efficiency and improve customer satisfaction.”
In the future, Perez says, ADUSA will begin developing and integrating back and eventplanning and production-planning systems. “Our goal is to provide one comprehensive integrated suite of products for the entire fresh foods operation in the supermarket,” he notes. Unlocking new revenue Boulder, Colorado-based MinuteKEY is “reimagining the key duplication industry,” according to CEO Randy Fagundo, who notes that the MinuteKEY machine — the first automated self-service key duplication machine — is currently used by retailers such as H-E-B, Fred Meyer and Safeway. Guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate, the self-service kiosk takes a minute to copy a key, as its name advertises. Fagundo says the system, which takes up 6 square feet, requires no capital outlay, maintenance or restocking by store associates, and will duplicate home, office and padlock keys.
AVT, based in Corona, California, offers automated retailing systems that provide self-service checkin and checkout carpet-cleaning systems, as well as automated systems for the rental and return of propane tanks. With 6,000 units in the field, Walmart is among AVT’s customers, says Shannon Illingworth, company founder and Chairman.
“We are currently working on several health care systems that carry a variety of items and are specialized to specifi c industry niches,” Illingworth says. “For example, some of our units are designed to dispense dental products. Others dispense vitamins. And one new system provides self-service retailing on all kinds of products for the feet, including insoles, pads and other items.”
Innovative Vending Systems in Dayton, Ohio, is currently working with several large supermarket companies on implementing different machines and applications, says Operations VP Jeff Thibodeau.
“We can dispense almost any product imaginable, from T-shirts to electronics,” hesays. “I would say the most popular product for supermarkets would be the dispensing of high-theft items like batteries and razors, and items that are typically behind lock and key, like medications and condoms. The machines can also be tied into the back-end POS of the retailer.”
On the future of automated retail solutions in supermarkets, Thibodeau says: “I think a lot more self-service. It started with the self-checkouts and is now being taken a step further with the automated retail machines. With many retail locations being 24 hours, and a lack of employees in the wee hours, these machines will really help to boost sales and reduce shrinkage.”