Can I Get a Bag of Chips With That?

OK, so it’s true I rarely go to malls so I may be behind the mark on this one. I was out the other day and came across something I had never seen before – a Proactiv Solution Skincare vending kiosk sitting in the middle of the walkway. The structure was complete with signage, graphics, and a credit card checkout – all the practical things needed for a tradition store. But it made we wonder: what about the rest of the shopping experience?
As marketers, we know that the purchase experience is incredibly important to women. We even know that when a woman physically touches or picks up a product, she is often more likely to buy it. Women enjoy the sensory experience of shopping – not just the sights but the smells, sounds, and the tactility of the product itself. For women, shopping is often done with friends as a social outing. So how do these vending machines play into this experience? Although one can’t deny their efficiency, I can’t help but think this antiseptic form of shopping may make women feel cheated out of the full shopping experience.

For Proactiv, the transition of the brand experience to a kiosk is a relatively smooth one. It works fairly seamlessly with the brand’s usual shopping experience, which is done primarily through infomercials. Product is ordered over the phone or online, so customers are used to not seeing, touching, or testing the product. Customers can even watch the same infomercials they may see at home on an attached flat screen, making the purchasing scenario even more familiar. Elizabeth Arden also has a branded beauty vending machine, complete with the same formula for translating their brand to the kiosk environment. Their signature red color, branded photography, messaging, and flat screen are all included. In contrast to Proactiv, this brand is mostly sold in more traditional distribution channels in stores such as Ulta and Macy’s, making the transition of the brand to a kiosk a bit more of a stretch.

Photos: Bellasugar.com, Flickr user merlinmann, Utiqueshop.com

In addition to kiosks branded with a single line, the beauty vending machine is also extending into a multiple brand offering with the recent launch of Utique, a slick machine with premium design and quality. This has allowed more upscale brands to be sold through these machines, now operating in trendy boutiques such as Fred Segal and including brands such as Bliss, Lancome, and C.O. Bigelow. The machines are a freestanding “McMenu” for beauty that communicate information about each product to the customer in lieu of a salesperson. The sales pitch for Utique is about saving time and self-empowerment in the messaging, with copy such as “cut through the clutter” and “master your own retail destiny” and the tagline “Because time is a luxury.”

New approaches like Utique seem to open the door for many more brands to embrace this trend, but can any beauty product work in this new format? For example, when a customer is shopping for color cosmetics, she not only needs to interact with the product to test the color on her skin, but often needs the assistance of a knowledgeable sales person to help match the correct color for her. I’m not sure the technology is there yet for a machine to tell her “that looks great on you!” And what about the role a salesperson plays in the consumer’s perception of the brand – would the brand experience of MAC Cosmetics be the same without the uber trendy makeup artists?

So salespeople, it looks like you may keep your jobs… for now.