Uniqlo, the Japan-based clothing retailer, is taking a unique approach to selling its clothes: vending machines.
The company, owned by Fast Retailing Co. announced on Wednesday it was installing 10 vending machines in and around New York, Houston and Oakland, Calif. to sell some of its clothes. Uniqlo isn’t the only company selling non-food items in vending machines. It’s a growing trend as retailers look for new ways to sell their goods, so shoppers may be seeing more of them, said Andrea Woroch, a consumer shopping expert. “There’s no hassle,” she said, “you get what you want.”
Vending machines are a $7 billion-a-year business in the U.S., although sales have been broadly flat in recent years, according to industry-research group IBISWorld, except for the introduction of new quirkier items such as guitar accessories, bike parts, Lego toys, caviar, pet food, umbrellas, socks, shoes, envelopes, cosmetics, gold and marijuana. Industry research group Euromonitor has a more conservative estimate (closer to $5 billion in the U.S.) and says the U.S. is the third-largest vending machine market after Japan ($26 billion) and Spain ($8 billion).
Food and beverages still make up most vending machine sales — each accounting for roughly one-third of sales — while movies and games made up 29% of the industry, followed by 6% for other products including electronics, magazines, toys, condoms, first-aid products and cosmetics, IBISWorld found. Still, food vending machines no longer just offer Pringles and pretzels. Sprinkles, a bakery in New York, has a “Cupcake ATM” for passersby in the mood for a treat, and another bakery, in Cedar Creek, Texas, has a vending machine for its full-sized pecan pies.
Champagne company Moët and Chandon also has vending machines, which hold 320 mini-bottles of its champagne.The first such machine launched in London last year and they are now available in Las Vegas and New Orleans. Companies even sell cars through vending machines — there’s already one in Singapore automotive division of Alibaba Group-owned BABA, +0.93% shopping site Tmall hopes to bring one to China — not to be confused with vending machines in cars, which Uber has introduced in partnership with tech startup Cargo.
Because it’s cheaper for companies to sell from a machine instead of paying for rent and employees, Woroch said the variety of machines will keep growing. But they aren’t always the best option for shopping. Using them takes away most of the customer service element, since there’s no one to ask for help in sizing and product information, and no easy way to try or return the item back to the vending machine, Woroch said. And even with online shopping becoming more of a go-to option for consumers, shoppers still want that extra help, which is why so many more companies have chat boxes, she added.