By Ian Reynolds-Young
Coffetek invited Britain’s leading operators for a sneak preview of the future and they turned up in their droves – to The Underdog art gallery on Crucifix Lane, in the Dickensian heart of London.
Whilst the name and address provided little in the way of reassurance, the name of the exhibit we’d all come to see implied that the future of vending is going to be very exciting indeed.
It’s called the ‘Button Gourmet’ and it was billed as ‘a revolution in unattended retail.’
You don’t have to be futurologist to imagine a time when there are unattended shops on every high street, selling everything and anything to anyone and everyone; anytime. You see, people are receptive to ‘unattended’ sales outlets. We’re happy, for instance, to pay for petrol on the forecourt (thanks to card readers that are integrated into the pumps), or to by-pass the supermarket queue (by checking-out our our own shopping), so why not get a sandwich / chocolate bar / healthy snack / coffee in the same unattended way? Particularly if it’s fast, easy; convenient and secure to do so…
Button Gourmet allows you, in a single transaction, to order all the products you want for your coffee / tea /meal break. The products you order are dispensed from a bank of vending machines concealed within Button Gourmet’s glossy shell; gathered together onto a conveyor belt and delivered to you via a serving hatch.
To be amongst the first to witness this prototype in action was quite something. It made it easy to imagine how it must have been to marvel at the first appearance of a railway engine or a flying machine…
The thing is, the original flying machines and those first trains had a lot of development to endure before ultimately delivering on their potential and similarly, subsequent Button Gourmet models will evolve rapidly from this sure-footed start. It seems to me, for instance, that before you know it, a combination of voice / facial recognition software, together with biometrics, will replace keypads and even touchscreen interactivity will be a thing of the past. (The screens will remain though, in their new role as an increasingly valuable media channel). We won’t need cash mechanisms, note collectors or card readers for too much longer… Shopping at an unattended retail outlet will feel more like ordering a new album on iTunes on your iPad than using a vending machine.
Button Gourmet is a grand experiment and it’s taking vending one giant leap in the right direction. We are heading for ‘unattended retailing’ at full throttle and issues with, for instance, speed of order fulfilment may mean that Button Gourmet is not be the vehicle to take us all the way to our destination. But, when we do get there, sooner than we think, I for one will remember that damp afternoon in the Underdog on Crucifix Lane and be proud to say, ‘I was there when the very first one was put on show.’
Coffetek appears to be striding ahead in the race to create the world’s first viable non-attended retail outlet. The other manufacturers have a lot of catching up to do…