Powering Smartphones With Rented Chargers


Kiosks with rentable chargers are everywhere in China: more than half of the country’s restaurants, train stations, airports, and malls had power bank rental, according to one report in August. In the United States, however, consumers can lock their phones up in charging lockers, or they can charge their phones at charging stations while standing nearby. Those technologies come with a disadvantage.

“Both don’t give you access to your phone,” said Nathan Ruff, CEO of Rabbit, a company building a network of small power brick rental kiosks in cities such as Nashville, Tennessee. Consumers could alternatively buy external battery chargers to carry around town with them. Ruff says that he probably has approximately 10 of them. The problem with those devices, however, is consumers never have them when they need them.

And he said consumers actively have to “charge it, recharge it” and “have it on you.” With kiosks, however, consumers can rent chargers when they need one — and not have to worry about remembering to bring a unit with them when they leave their homes. Consumers can start using his kiosks, which let them rent or buy a charger called a Carrot to take with them, by downloading his company’s app. The app — similar to the Bird app for scooter rentals — will show kiosk locations with pins on a map.

Consumers then walk into a place of business, scan a QR code on the automated retail kiosk, and a power brick will pop out with the charging cables built into the device. They are approximately the size of an iPhone X. Each unit can provide a phone with two full charges and has iPhone, Micro USB, and USB-C cords built in. Once consumers pick up the charger, they can choose to stay by the kiosk or leave the location if they want. After consumers finish charging their phones, they can insert the Carrot back into a kiosk.

The app helps consumers find a place to drop off their chargers by showing them how many empty slots are available at each location on a map. The rentals max out at the cost of $4.99 a day. After consumers have the brick for eight days, their rental is considered to be an automatic purchase. They can also buy the unit at any time for $39.99. Payments are handled via the company’s app, and consumers can pay by credit card.

The Market

The company’s target market covers a wide range of consumers, from college students to business executives. Ruff said the company has had the most success at bars. The company is also about to go live at a zoo. And salons seem to be a good place for Rabbits, Ruff said, because consumers are there for hours at a time to get their hair done. Other favorable locations for his kiosks include large gyms and hotels.

Consumers who know they are going to explore a city, say, might have their phone run out of power halfway through their adventures. When their phones run out of power, they can plug them into the bricks. His chargers could also be helpful to those on a golf course. Businesspeople on a golf course might make many phone calls, after all. Kiosk locations could also include music venues and universities.

“The list…goes on and on,” Ruff said.

Rabbits could also be in a tire business if consumers are waiting to have their tires rotated or have a flat fixed. Emergency rooms and hospital waiting rooms are also good places, he noted. He acknowledged that some newer hospitals have free charging stations, but his company doesn’t want to take away from that. Instead, it wants to provide another option for people who want to have access to their phones while they charge their phones.

Kiosk Hosts

Businesses can sign up to have a kiosk in their location through the company’s website. If a business is a good fit, Rabbit will deliver a unit. The kiosk is free, and the business receives 20 percent of the revenue it produces. Rabbit handles restocking, kiosk maintenance, and it has live chat built into the app should a problem arise.

Rabbit is hardly alone in its use of automated retail technology.

“Kiosks are increasingly popular sales channels and are being leveraged to facilitate everything from real estate purchases to bill payments,” according to the PYMNTS Automated Retail Tracker. “The solutions enable retailers to provide products and promotions without tying up staff or taking up much floorspace and have been shown to increase customer spend.”

And, with the help of this technology, digital innovators are creating networks of kiosks that disperse chargers to ensure that on-the-go consumers always have power for their phones.