Vending Machines

Fixing Footwear Blues, The Unattended Way

With growth rates that look more like tech companies and less like vending operators, the interactive retail kiosk market is poised to reach $1B just three years from now. The newly released Retail Kiosk Report, in collaboration with USA Technologies, tracks the growth and the use cases across 11 retail segments. Plus, Flat Out of Heels founder Dawn Dickson takes us inside one of the segments driving that growth: kiosks that sell shoes.

Who couldn’t use a change of shoes after 10 hours of standing in a convention center or four hours of dancing in a club?

Well, that’s a problem that Miami, Florida-based shoe startup Flat Out of Heels is hoping to solve. The company designs, manufactures and distributes rollable flats out of vending machines, targeting women who can’t spend another second in their heels.

In a recent interview, company founder Dawn Dickson discussed how Flat Out of Heels and the unattended retail sector as a whole have each evolved since their inception.

Thanks to business growth, the company is working in collaboration with PopCom Kiosk by Solutions Vending to revamp its kiosks and better understand its customers. Solutions Vending is a smart vending company that was also founded by Dickson.

“We wanted to be able to collect more customer data and accept more forms of payment,” Dickson told PYMNTS. “So, we developed software to make the machines more intelligent.”

Last year, Flat Out of Heels extended its eCommerce presence to help expand its business. Dickson believes that while online sales may provide an additional revenue stream for her company, the platform mainly serves to improve and promote the firm’s vending machine business – and that there is still more opportunity to be realized in an unattended retail distribution model.

Simple Beginnings

Flat Out of Heels’ shoe-selling vending machines first made their debut in 2013 at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Club LIV, a popular Atlanta nightspot. The company was hoping to reach customers who needed new, comfortable shoes after a long flight or night on the dance floor.

The machines were a hit with women across Atlanta who needed a fast footwear change, and Flat Out of Heels has since expanded its presence to more than 250 locations.

But despite the growth and popularity, Dickson wasn’t satisfied. The vending machines could only accept basic credit and debit card payments, but were unable to process payments from mobile wallets or even from many new chip-enabled credit and debit cards.

As such, PopCom and Flat Out of Heels created a new payment acceptance system to address this issue – a system that was far more accepting than the previous machine.

“The new machines will accept all forms of cards, and all digital wallets,” Dickson said – and that isn’t all. “[The new machines] will also accept Pay By Face from Samsung, and cryptocurrency,” she added, noting that crypto payment methods, like bitcoin, are “very popular” right now.

Payments weren’t the only problem, however. Flat Out of Heels wanted to provide a more personalized experience, which meant it needed to know its customers better than ever.

But the kiosks could not even ask a customer to enter an email address, and that made customer data collection impossible. To solve this issue, the companies also collaborated to introduce new data collection capabilities to the kiosks, Dickson explained.

The kiosks can now collect customers’ email addresses and other contact information, along with information like approximate age. Through facial recognition technology, they can also recognize and read consumers’ emotions as they engage with the machine. Dickson said the upgrades will bring Flat Out of Heels’ unattended locations up to speed with the capabilities of the company’s full-fledged eCommerce store.

“On our eCommerce [website], we’re able to clearly understand how we’re converting customers [by] how they’re purchasing and their behavior and activities on the site,” she said. “But I really wanted those kinds of metrics on machines to understand what kind of venues are performing the best. Without some kind of software to help with that data collection, it will be really hard for me to grow the businesses.”

Getting Smarter — and Bigger

For Flat Out of Heels, overhauling the infrastructure meant temporarily readjusting its sales strategy. As the company upgrades its kiosk infrastructure, it’s currently employing just two of the old-style kiosk machines and has removed the rest from the field.

Removing the machines has meant relying on the company’s eCommerce sales to do much of the heavy lifting in the interim, but that won’t be the case for long.

Dickson noted that with the new machines already on the way, the company is looking to get more of them into the field – and more shoes onto the feet of its consumers. If things go as planned, she anticipates her company’s vending machines and eCommerce store to become equally important sources of revenue.

“If anything, our online presence really drives people to purchase at vending machines,” Dickson said. “The vending machine is really where the demand is. Our customers’ feet hurt, and they need new shoes now.”

She has faith in the future of selling shoes, as well as other items not typically associated with vending machines or kiosks, also in an unattended setting. That faith, in large part, comes from the technological strides the industry has made in recent years.

“We want people to open up their minds to the fact that multiple products can be sold in vending machines, because we have really redesigned the machines,” Dickson said. “These new designs can be very attractive and engaging.”

With improved technology, it seems more and more consumers will turn to unattended retail for a quick dose of comfort.

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About the Report

The new Kiosk and Retail Report, a USA Technologies collaboration, is designed to givkiosk,e readers a better understanding of how these emerging technologies are shaping the unattended retail market. It focuses on the ever-evolving world of unattended retail, including those selling items and services consumers never thought they could get without help from a human, and includes market analysis and a look at how new payment technologies are changing the shopping experience.

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