FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sony Debuts "Robotic Stores"

Some will call them vending machines, but Sony is calling their new line of automated retail devices "robotic stores."  Naming aside, the goal is to make buying digital cameras, MP3 players and other tech gadgets as easy -- and as impulsive -- as buying a pack of gum.

The kiosks, manufactured by San Francisco-based Zoom Systems, are being piloted in malls in Georgia, Colorado and California.  Through them, consumers can purchase cameras, batteries, MP3 players, memory sticks, CDs and DVDs using a credit or debit card.  In addition to supplying the kiosks, Zoom will provide restocking and maintenance service.

Sony sees the kiosks as a less-expensive alternative to storefronts, allowing them to get their products in front of customers at a variety of locations -- malls, airports and grocery stores, to name a few.  Additionally, Sony hopes to capitalize on immediate gratification by making their products so convenient.

The strategy seems to be directly opposite to that of Dell, which is experimenting with stores that don't carry inventory, but where customers can see and handle products before placing an order that will be delivered to their homes.  Dell will place these new stores in upscale malls, in direct competition with the highly successful Apple retail outlets that have appeared over the last several years.

Source:  New York Times (via CNET)