The word “vending machine” elicits a few typical images: candy bars, chips and soft drinks — though if one spends enough time in an airport personal electronics might make the list.
But vending machines are branching out in big ways and getting more high tech. According to the PYMNTS/USA Technology Unattended Retail tracker, there will be 3.6 million connected vending machines on the planet by 2020. The total value of the unattended market is expected to grow to $42 billion by the year 2022.
That $42 billion result will not come through the sales of Snickers bars, salty snacks or sodas. Things that are showing up in vending machines nowadays are quite beyond what the average consumer still thinks when they hear the term. Gold coins, champagne, prime cuts of beef, cars and caviar — these are all now things that exist in vending machines.
Consumers seem to be using vending machines as discovery tools. Kelly Knight, owner of Beverly Hills Caviar and inventor of the caviar vending machine, noted that when the machine first began appearing in malls, consumers who had never eaten gourmet fish eggs before ended up finding the product because of the unusual vending option.
“Even though [some] people didn’t know what caviar was, they clicked on the machine because they were interested to see what it was selling,” Knight explained. “People who [had] never had caviar in their life [before] ended up buying it from the machine, filming it and sharing it on social media.”
Never underestimate the power of the element of surprise.
And it is with a similar attitude that another species of high-end retailer is moving toward unattended retail in the form of vending machines. New York-based jeweler Marla Aaron — maker of the carabiner-shaped lock pendants — has turned to vending machines to offer consumers another way to buy unattended luxury.
According to the brand’s founder, Marla Aaron, the move was inspired by a trip to Japan, where vending machines have been a popular staple of retail for the last several years. After becoming “obsessed” with the concept, she set about designing a vending machine that spoke to the more unique aspects of her brand.
“My collection is industrial, but it’s all handmade in New York,” Aaron said. “I thought, well, if any fine jewelry brand could do this legitimately, it would be us.”
Once the machine was ready, the next challenge was to find a venue that matched the unique concept of the product — which led to its current placement outside the Brooklyn Museum’s gift shop. On offer are a variety of options depending on budgetary constraints.
The bottom of the range: a silver ear cuff for $100; at the top: a lock affixed to a gold chain for $1,472, featuring a rainbow of baguettes (including ruby, citrine, sapphire, tourmaline and amethyst) — both of which are well below some of the higher-priced items on the Marla Aaron site. Today, customers can pick up an 18-karat gold charm box topped with tsavorite — just one example of the product range and design aesthetic of the brand.
“While the retail landscape has changed dramatically, the importance of individualized special experiences, especially with something like jewelry, is as important as ever,” Aaron told FierceRetail.
An Expanding Experiment
Marla Aaron is a relative newcomer to the jewelry space as a brand — launched in 2013 and built around its founder’s desire to create “jewel tools.” Its founder, incidentally, was also new to the space, having first spent 25 years as a global communications executive at publisher and advertising agencies in Europe and the United States.
“She was not very good at it,” was the review Aaron provided of herself on the bio section of her company’s website.
However, she was good at jewelry: The hardware-mixed-with-soft-lines approach the line is designed around has struck a nerve with consumers.
“Our business growth has been nothing short of extraordinary. We are in a very significant growth spurt with no signs of slowing. We are excited,” she admitted.
Today, Marla Aaron’s jewelry vending concept gets its first test drive in Brooklyn — but the ability to easily offer beautiful, authentic products to consumers is the direction in which all retail must move.
“I am very interested in showcasing our jewelry in interesting places, and for me putting the jewelry in a vending machine at the Brooklyn Museum is the highest expression of this,” Aaron concluded.