Interview • 18.01.2021

Vending machines: Customers alone in the store

Combi City-Markt makes round-the-clock shopping possible – without staff

Combi City-Markt from the Outside
Source: Wanzl

Shopping after closing time? That’s possible at the Combi City store Bünting in Oldenburg. At the 24/7 vending machine, late at night shoppers have the opportunity to stock up on everything they need from the supermarket's assortment.

The Wanzl company helped develop this solution. Jürgen Frank, Head of Shop Solutions and Head of Marketing, tells us exclusively how the new shopping alternative works.

Mr. Frank, customers can shop 24/7 at the Combi City store in Oldenburg - explain the principle behind the store.

Jürgen Frank: It's a hybrid solution for city centers. On the one hand, the Combi City store offers a compact supermarket assortment with over 5,000 items on a sales area of 450 square meters. Right next door, the fully automated Combi 24/7 vending machine solution, developed by KHT and Wanzl and used by Bünting for the first time, complements the classic supermarket range. This is located in an area adjoining the store with a separate entrance. In Oldenburg, the vending machine provides a 24-hour supply of everyday products. A total of 500 items are available from the refrigerated and non-refrigerated food range, the fruit and vegetable department, the beverage range and the drugstore.

So if I can't make it to the store during normal opening hours, I can simply do my shopping alone later?

Exactly, staff is not needed, as the handling of the checkout and ordering terminal is intuitive and explains itself. The most important steps are clearly visible and easy to understand on a wall right next to the terminal. You use the terminal to select the products you want. The search and selection are facilitated by preset categories of products, classification criteria such as price, name or popularity, and other filters. If, for example, foods with certain allergens are not to appear on the screen at all, they are simply hidden with the right filter.

Frau steht an Fließband und wartet auf Ware
Source: Wanzl

How is food stored and dispensed?

The vending machine has a partially automated stocking and picking system. This means that employees place the relevant items on a conveyor belt[BG1] . Then a 360° scanner automatically records all important product properties. Information on refrigeration requirements and the protection of minors is provided by the product master data, which is maintained accordingly via middleware. The dispensing of alcoholic beverages, for example, is thus linked to an age check via ID card, as is the case with conventional purchasing. In most cases, the articles are stored chaotically in the vending machine using a picking system with one or two gripper arms. Fast-moving items can be stored next to slow-moving items. The same system is also used for dispensing the goods. The picking robot places the ordered products on a conveyor belt that leads to the sales floor. All scanned items are also automatically registered in the store's inventory management system or the vending machine. Thanks to a permanent, automatic inventory, monitoring and tracking of best-before date stocks are autonomously controlled and, if necessary, a message is sent to the store manager when the availability of individual items is running low.

What do retailers have to keep in mind and what are the technical requirements for using and setting up such a vending machine?

The 24/7 vending machine follows a rather lean and easy-to-install approach and is intended and designed as an addition or extension to brick-and-mortar areas as well as for Click & Collect or Click & Drive models. This makes it both economically scalable and practically easy to implement. Basically, the vending machine is installed and ready for use after a few days. The actual implementation and installation effort depend on the location, existing or new building, the size of the vending machine and the ability to integrate it into the existing inventory management system. The machine is flexible in terms of length and height, so that it can be integrated into practically any store. If required, it can be connected to adjacent storage, basement or upper floor areas via a dispensing compartment on the sales floor.

Why is such a store needed these days?

The 24/7 vending machine means a win-win situation for everyone. Customers benefit from the continuous availability of goods, while bricks and mortar retailers benefit from the additional sales opportunity with little space requirements and without depending on traditional store opening hours. The concept is not restricted to specific sectors or locations. In principle, it is suitable wherever only a small sales area is available, which can be in city centers or at transport hubs such as train stations or airports. 

Is this type of shopping the future and will it replace conventional supermarkets?

The 24/7 vending machine will not replace supermarkets but will primarily supplement them where little sales space is available. It is another way of shopping and a good answer for brick-and-mortar retailers to changing consumer behavior. Customers switch back and forth between online and offline channels depending on the situation, want immediate availability and shopping around the clock if possible. The 24/7 vending machine meets these requirements perfectly.

Interview: Katja Laska

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