Vending Machines

An Unattended Solution To The DMV’s Friction-Filled Reputation

Bread? Check. Milk? Check. Vehicle registration renewal … check! Californians can now add DMV transactions to their grocery lists, thanks to an initiative that puts kiosks in grocery stores to reduce long lines and driver frustration. In this month’s Unattended Retail Tracker, Jessica Gonzalez of the California Department of Motor Vehicles tells PYMNTS how its kiosk strategy is working.

To put it gently, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has gained a less-than-favorable reputation over time. A visit to the state-level government agency is widely known as a slow, frustrating, bureaucratic nightmare, brimming with both cranky customers and rude employees.

As a possible solution to improve the public service struggle, the state of California has been exploring — and finding success with — unattended retail technology for nearly a decade. It installed its first unmanned DMV station in October 2010, known as the DMV Now Self-Service Terminal, which was intended to shorten the infamous lines that plague the institution.

According to Jessica Gonzalez, assistant deputy director of public affairs at the Sacramento DMV, the technology proved to be popular with residents and the state quickly broadened access to the terminals. In fact, they are now also located in Safeway grocery stores.

In a recent interview, Gonzalez told PYMNTS that the more than 100 terminals deployed around California are so far serving their purpose.

“We were seeing a lot of people come into the field office, waiting in line and doing transactions they can do online and didn’t need to come into the office for, such as vehicle registration,” Gonzalez explained. “But customers wanted that license plate or tag immediately, so they came into the office. That takes up space and time, so we wanted to use a kiosk as a way to save [both].”

Registration and renewal

The freestanding, self-service terminals enable residents to use a touchscreen to perform basic DMV functions. The machines can process and print vehicle registration cards or stickers, and accept cash, check, credit or debit cards as payment for the transaction.

All told, the kiosks mean consumers can register their vehicles, pay for their new documents and have everything in hand — and all in a matter of minutes. This satisfies drivers’ desires to complete transactions quickly and get back on the road, and DMV employees can focus on more complex matters.

Gonzalez noted the first machines received quick approval from typically dissatisfied customers.

“Across the board, people use them,” she said. “Once they’ve tried it [and] see how they work, [customers] find that it operates much like an ATM and grow accustomed to using it pretty quickly.”

Reaching beyond the DMV 

Though it was certainly a goal, Gonzalez noted the terminals weren’t solely intended to ease the burden on DMV field offices. The offices are open during typical business hours, which offers inconvenient timing for many customers.

“We tried to think of other ways we could reach out to and help our customers,” Gonzalez said. “So, we put kiosks at grocery stores. Most of [the locations] are open at least until midnight, if not 24/7, and are designed to be a one-stop-shop for quick transactions.”

The agency has deployed the terminals at nearly 40 grocers, including 24 across southern California, more than a dozen across northern California and one on the UCLA Irvine campus.

The unattended future of the DMV

To piggyback on the terminals’ success, Gonzalez said the state is currently looking to build the next iteration. The DMV has its eyes set on driver’s license-related transactions, expanding the number of transactions residents can perform and adding contactless payments to its stable of accepted methods, among other improvements.

“It would be great to add driver’s license services, along with more languages,” Gonzalez said, noting that the machines only communicate in English or Spanish. “Completing a change of address would also be really convenient.”

For now, however, transactions are limited to registration renewal. That said, the impact of unattended technology on California’s DMV field offices is already apparent — and with endless potential. It may not be long before unattended retail technology more widely turns a trip to the dreaded DMV into a convenient part of a consumer’s visit to the grocery store.

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About the Tracker

The Unattended Retail Tracker™ serves as a bimonthly framework for the space, providing coverage of the most recent news and trends as well as a directory highlighting key players contributing to the expansive unattended retail ecosystem.


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