Bringing Specialty Socks To Malls With Automated Retail

Bringing Socks To Malls With Automated Retail

For many entrepreneurs, their experiences tend to guide them toward a particular area. The Sock Spot CEO Ben Williams, for instance, worked for a manufacturer in eCommerce and decided to start his own online shopping company.

He settled on selling socks because his wife wore fun socks underneath tall boots in an otherwise formal horse-riding setting. As he told PYMNTS in an interview, they allow the wearer to express their individuality without having to be flashy.

Williams started The Sock Spot website and started to reach out to brands. Now, he has more than a dozen brands with access to many different types of socks. (Variations range from socks with a Sriracha theme to those centered around Alcatraz.)

To differentiate his eCommerce site from the many other sock sellers, Williams came up with the idea of introducing a vending machine for socks – otherwise known as an automated retail unit – at the Westfield San Francisco Centre shopping mall. The unit highlights a selection of more than 40 pairs of novelty socks, which are specialized to San Francisco shoppers. It sits at the Powell/Market Street Bart entrance of the mall’s concourse level.

The Machine

The machine is “kind of different from some of the other vending machines that you see,” Williams said, noting that “it’s all just one touchscreen” with a grid of different products. Consumers can click on a product to receive more information, and can then purchase the socks through a buy-it-now experience. They can swipe their card to have a product dispensed, or they can add multiple products to their cart, change the quantities as needed and then check out all at once.

The completely cashless machine also offers Apple Pay and Samsung Pay as digital forms of payments. Williams noted that the machine “can evolve with and keep with the times.”

The Sock Spot’s target market is a little different for the device than for the eCommerce website. People typically find his site if they are searching for socks. The machine, however, has more of a convenience/impulse buy factor.

In terms of locations, Williams thinks that the machine can go anywhere. He is currently reaching out to airports, as consumers often forget to pack socks. He also sees opportunities in college campuses, museums, science/arts centers and many other places.

The Market

When it comes to the timing for the machine, Williams pointed out that demand for novelty socks continues to grow year over year. He also noted that the machine replicates much of the eCommerce experience. Shoppers are also accustomed to using self-checkout at places like Target. “The push toward self-service is huge as well,” Williams said.

The Sock Spot is part of a larger trend of digital innovators tapping into automated retail. Alpaca Market, for instance, has a network of vending machines and smart fridges in Austin, Texas. The company’s Founder and CEO Joe Kerby told PYMNTS in a previous interview that the company serves places “where you find yourself working, living [and] playing.” In another case, BallBox has a locker kiosk network that offers access to sport, tech and leisure equipment at beaches, parks, apartments and hotels.

From The Alpaca Market to The Sock Spot, digital innovators are bringing an array of products to consumers with the help of automated retail.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.