Macy's To Merge A Kiosk With A Vending Machine

What do you get when you merge a kiosk with a vending machine? I'm not sure. But whatever it is, Macy's is putting it into some 392 stores right away, the chain announced May 22. That represents almost half of the chain's 800 stores.

The new machines are called e-Spot automated retail shops and are designed to deliver consumer electronics—initially offering iPods, digital cameras, camcorders, mobile accessories and headphones priced anywhere from $15 to $350—as though they were candy, literally. The machines function just as a candy or sandwich vending machine does, in that they accept the payment (typically a credit card or a gift card) and then drop the product to where the customer can retrieve it.

Macy's said the machines, which it has been quietly piloting for two years, "provide instant gratification faster than online purchasing," with a typical transaction taking fewer than two minutes.

"Customers tell us they love the no-pressure environment e-Spot provides," said Chris Mizer, senior vice president of Macy's Customer Operations, in a statement. "Getting product information easily without pressure, and not waiting for someone with a key to unlock a cabinet or get the product from a back room—this is the type of comfortable shopping environment that today's technology buyer appreciates."

But the e-Spot goes beyond the capabilities of a vending machine and pays homage to its kiosk roots. The machine can also use a touchscreen interface and multimedia capabilities to deliver product information and a limited level of comparisons.

Macy's said that the machine supports returns via the mail, as long as it's done within 30 days. Customers are supposed to call a toll-free number to get a return form and to then ship the merchandise back for credit.