Can an e-tail startup establish a physical presence using hi-tech vending units?
The Sock Spot, an online retailer of novelty socks, is looking to broaden its business prospects by moving into physical retail via “automated retail units” (AKA vending machines).
The e-tailer is testing the vending machines at Westfield San Francisco Centre. The first unit to be located at the facility is at the entrance of the concourse level at the mall. It features 40 pairs of socks curated for customers in the San Francisco Bay area.
Ben Williams, CEO of The Sock Spot, called the vending units “an evolution” in retail that enables a small company such as his “to expand the reach of our brand, deliver a unique, online-esque experience to brick and mortar, and use our wealth of digital knowledge to specialize the assortment.”
The machines, Mr. Williams said, make use of touchscreen technology and include an add-to-cart feature where customers can purchase more than one pair of socks at a time. The machines are cashless accepting mobile payments and credit cards as forms of payment.
“As we proceed, the machine is going to keep evolving; adapting both its assortment and its interface to fit the people around it and offer a truly unique and interactive experience,” he said.
Sock Spot’s Williams sees vending units as a way for his company to expand its physical presence in a significant way. The goal, he said, is to create “a single seamless experience” between the e-tailer’s shopping site and the vending units.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see hi-tech vending units as a good way for digital brands to establish physical touchpoints without the investments associated with pop-ups or opening stores? What do you see as the upside and limits of this approach for a niche business such as The Sock Spot?