Forgot to pack a warm coat? Try the airport vending machine

November 15, 2018

If you are traveling by air, don’t worry about packing lightly. There’s almost no limit to what you can buy at the airport now, if you find you have forgotten an important item or need something unexpectedly.

Zara Harding had a nagging concern as she walked to her gate after an airport layover last June,” she told The Wall Street Journal for a November 14 story.  She had run out of time to buy a coat for the glacier hike in Washington’s Cascade Mountains she was heading to and was “worrying about being cold in the snow.”

But to her surprise and delight, she found her solution right there at Hollywood Burbank Airport. “Lo and behold,” she says, “a Uniqlo brand vending machine appeared in my path.”

Harding, 39, a group fitness instructor from Northern California, told the business news outlet that she paid $69.90 for an ultra-light down jacket made by the Japanese casual clothing retailer.

Indeed, according to the Journal, the retailer started rolling out vending machines in August 2017 at airports and shopping malls near New York, Houston, Oakland, and seven other U.S. cities—selling basic, travel-friendly attire to customers with no time to browse through the racks or wait on a line.

Although Uniqlo won’t comment on its sales, San Francisco International Airport officials told the New York-based newspaper that the machine there brings in a whopping $10,000 a month.

And according to the Journal, Uniqlo is in the forefront an exponentially expanding number of companies that are using vending machine to sell everything from apparel to makeup, to electronics and high-end foods at hubs nationwide.

The machines can be stationed in unused corners of an airport and make sales around the clock. Some new machines have touch screens and robotic suction arms to deliver expensive products.

“There’s only so many stores you can fit in an airport,” Elias Bizannes, CEO of San Francisco-based ZoomSystems said in an interview. The company operates machines for Uniqlo, as well as Best Buy, Benefit Cosmetics, Nespresso, and Proactiv.

Sarah Skwire, a senior fellow at a think tank in Indiana was on her way to Washington, D.C., when she got a text message that she needed her own makeup for a filming, the Journal reports. At Indianapolis International Airport, she found one of the pink, 59 bus-shaped Benefit machines that are parked at 37 U.S. and Canadian airports.

Before, she says, “I would make sarcastic remarks: Who’s going to blow $40 on Benefit while waiting for a plane, from a vending machine?”

This time, Skwire, 47, bought a travel makeup kit to get herself camera-ready. A few months later, she was back at a Benefit machine after a compact of pressed powder came apart in her bag during a security screening. “I went from a skeptic to a minor enthusiast.”

At some airports, vending machines offer local flavor. Ted Drewes, a St. Louis frozen-custard institution, has been selling $6 “concretes”—custard so thick you can turn it upside down without spilling—from machines at St. Louis Lambert International Airport since mid-2015. Travelers bought 15,000 concretes in the machines’ first year and sales climbed 25% the next year, according to Las Vegas-based AVendCo, which operates the four frozen-custard machines.

At Pittsburgh International Airport, a vending machine operated by Arcadia Publishing sells books on the history of local neighborhoods for about $20.

What’s next? Maybe food or other supplies for all of those companion animals that are catching flights with their owners?

Research contact: @alyrose

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