FOLSOM, CA -- Intel Corp. has completed a successful demonstration program that enables employees to purchase a variety of computer-related accessories from touchscreen-equipped vending machines developed by Vendors Exchange International Inc. (Cleveland). Venders installed at Intel's corporate campus here are stocked with products including keyboards, pointing devices, flash memory drives and more than a dozen other essential items; employees can access them at any hour of the day or night. The pilot was conducted by Intel's IT Client Services from June through December of last year.
By adding a satellite-dispensing machine linked to the main unit, the Client Services operation can expand selection from the 23 items sold during the pilot to 43 or more. The most popular computer accessories from the pilot remain at the core of the menu; they include mice, flash drives, keyboards, cable locks and laptop AC adaptors. At the start of Phase II, the products will range in price from a $3.39 mini-USB 2.0 cable to a $149 docking station. People make purchases by swiping their Intel employee badges, and items are charged against the employee's department.
Rollout of the upgraded machines is underway now at the Folsom campus. From this initial site, the program will continue with the installation of anywhere from three to eight of the advanced dual-model venders at Intel's other major U.S. facilities in Hillsboro, OR, Chandler, AZ, and the Santa Clara, CA, corporate headquarters. One dual unit is planned for each of Intel's smaller facilities in Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. About 30 more machines are planned for Intel's non-U.S. facilities by the end of the year.
The second-generation touch-enabled vending machines are said to allow people to select items with greater accuracy, and to get detailed information on each item rather than merely looking at it from the other side of a glass panel. The machines also use cameras and sensors to gather data such as where a person's eye moves as he or she browses items.
"Where a person looks matters because it helps to know how long it takes to make a selection, and whether someone considered other options," said Intel project manager Catalin Baicu.
The new machines run on an Intel Core i5 vPro processor and use Intel's AIM (Audience Impression Metric) suite, which captures data including a person's gender using anonymous sensors and computer algorithms. Although there is a lens near the top of the machine, the camera does not retain an image of the shopper's face. Baicu explained that data captured by the AIM suite is not correlated with the employee's badge number, but the ability to gather such data could be useful for companies using the vending machines in some situations.
The vending machines allow purchases 24/7. During the pilot, 12% of sales were made outside regular business hours. Self-service reduced billing time by 98% and streamlined the purchasing process by simplifying it to just four steps.
The company reports that its employees embraced the program, awarding it a 95% satisfaction rating. According to Greg Buzek, president of retail and hospitality research firm IHL Group (Franklin, TN), those results show potential for similar programs outside Intel. "Every company is looking to be more efficient and maximize the skill sets of employees," Buzek said. "Intel's concept is rather unique, and has a lot of opportunity if it really reduces the number of steps, increases speed and reduces downtime."
While Vendors Exchange has built machines to vend cosmetics, sundries and branded toys, the Intel model is the first to exclusively carry computer accessories. "Our solution is pushing the boundaries of what can be pushed out of a machine," said Chris Goumas of VEII's interactive solutions division. "Where a typical vending machine is designed to accommodate a total weight of seven pounds or less in a slot, we can push 20 pounds. In a double-wide slot, that is 40 pounds."
An entire slot full of 3-lb. batteries is now possible, according to Goumas. He explained that this much weight in a standard machine would cause a malfunction.
Intel has done extensive work on its "Intelligent Vending" concept, designed to unify the sales, marketing, communications and control functions of vending equipment through a single board (see VT, December). Applications of this technology by major retailers in the United States and the United Kingdom were showcased by Intel at its National Retail Federation exhibit early this year (see VT, February).