Recently in Columbus, OH the Kroger company installed a giant hybrid convenience store / vending machine next to its gas pumps.
Local TV station NBC-4 reported on it, saying:
When operational, the machines will provide everything from
drinks to pain relievers. In all, more than 150 products will be
available at the so-called automated convenience stores.
The machines will accept credit cards, coins and cash.
“Product falls into a soft basket. Basket goes into a delivery bin, drops it in and it comes out the front,” said Tom Riske, an installer.
The concept is from a company called Shop24 which is based in Belgium and has installed similar machines throughout Europe.
For a while now there has been tension between the grocery and c-store channels, with each creeping toward the other. In this move Kroger is dipping its toe in more automation territory. First, along with other grocery chains, they have given shoppers the self-checkout option. Now they are looking at a store-without-a-store. It will be interesting to see how this catches on. I couldn’t find any pictures of the one in Columbus but here’s a picture from a similar Shop24 unit attached to a Shell station in Portugal. One of the interesting things about this concept is how people use it. It appears to follow a purchase pattern similar to that of a standard convenience store. On their website Shop24 outlines the highest selling European items and typical day parts for each, along with shopper needs. It shows the breadth of occasions for this type of retail channel. It all raises a small but significant question: What is this channel called? Un-manned C-Store or SuperVending? I imagine it will live under the Vending banner. And although it can’t compare to the vending jungle that is at play in Japan, it’s a pretty interesting development for us stateside.