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Vending Machines Are The Latest Threat To US Retailers

Courtesy of Zero Hedge

US retailers just can’t catch a break.

In a bid to undercut US-based brands, “fast fashion” purveyor Uniqlo announced this week that it will begin selling its clothes in vending machines, a common practice in Japan, where Uniqlo’s owner, Fast Retailing Co., is based. All told, the company plans to open 10 machines in and around New York City, Oakland and Houston, according to MarketWatch’s Ali Malito, who reported that brands are increasingly selling consumer goods like clothing out of vending machines as part of a “growing trend” as they “look for new ways to sell their goods" amid a flood of brick-and-mortar bankruptcies.

“There’s no hassle,” consumer shopping expert Andrea Woroch told Malito. “You get what you want.”

However, this latest wave of innovation in the retail space threatens to leave US firms flat-footed if the fail to quickly adapt, just like many now-dead companies who failed to anticipate the rise of Amazon.com and e-commerce more broadly.

In the US, vending machines are a $7 billion-a-year business, although sales have been flat in recent years, according to industry-research group IBISWorld, as consumers increasingly prefer healthier snacks and beverages than the potato chips and soda that consumers typically associate with vending-machine sales. According to Euromonitor data cited by MarketWatch, the US vending-machine market is closer to $5 billion a year in sales, the third-largest behind No. 2 Spain ($8 billion) and No. 1 Japan ($26 billion).

In recent years, vending machines have been popping up in the US that sell a range of nontraditional items, including guitar accessories, bike parts, Lego toys, caviar, pet food, umbrellas, socks, shoes, envelopes, cosmetics, gold and even – in the states where it has been legalized – marijuana, according to MarketWatch.

“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.”

A “vending machine” for luxury cars opened earlier this year in Singapore. The “machine” is a revamped office building that allows wealthy collectors to pay in cash and drive off in their new car with minimal hassle. Luxury goods brands appear to be seizing on the vending-machine model more quickly than their downmarket peers, as MarketWatch explains…

“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 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.”

As a gathering wave of brick-and-mortar closures and bankruptcies force brands to innovate, low-cost vending machines are looking increasingly attractive. However, Uniqlo must still find a way to surmount customer-service obstacles like allowing customers to try on clothes before buying, and enabling them to easily return their purchases.

“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.”

As we recently reported, retail bankruptcies surged 110% during the first half of 2017, accounting for some $6 billion in debt, even as the overall high-yield default rate tumbled to 1.9% in the same period from 2.2% at the end of June as $4.7 billion of defaulted debt, mostly in the energy sector, rolled out of the default universe. Overall high-yield default rate tumbled to 1.9% in the same period from 2.2% at the end of June as $4.7 billion of defaulted debt – mostly in the energy sector – rolled out of the default universe.


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