Kodak Vending Machines Take Inventory Snapshot

After 15 months of testing, Eastman Kodak Co. is set to roll out wireless Internet-linked vending machines nationwide that dispense one-time-use cameras and film.

Manufactured by Maytag Corp.'s Dixie-Narco division, the vending machines allow real-time monitoring of inventory. In another key benefit, the machines accept only debit or credit cards, thus reducing the risk of vandalism.

Kodak, Rochester, NY, plans to place 10,000 such wireless Internet vending machines over four years. This arguably will make Kodak the nation's first marketer to use such Internet-linked vendor machines on a large scale.

The machine's debut is part of a two-pronged strategy, said Robin Forte, Atlanta-based associate product manager at Kodak. The company aims to continually innovate with new product as well as to create a new sales channel at appropriate locations, she said.

“So that whenever a picture-taking opportunity exists, we're going to be there,” Forte said. “With the vending unit, we're targeting locations that are what we call point of pictures, such as amusement parks, beaches [and] theme parks. Any place where a person might be in a picture-taking situation, we're going to sell cameras.”

As the application service provider to Kodak, e-Vend.net Corp., Kennett Square, PA, will handle the vending machine's credit and debit card processing and fulfillment of orders through a warehouse in Newark, DE.

E-Vend.net, in which Maytag holds a minor stake, said its software will run the machine, which looks like a standard Maytag vending machine. Maytag supplies vending machines to Pepsi and Coca-Cola bottlers as well as other beverage brands.

Wendy Jenkins, vice president of sales and marketing at e-Vend.net, said her company will be able to check the status of the vending machine, track the inventory levels, gauge the sales and then give a picture of the product that needs to be replenished.

“It's something that we internally refer to as a service paradox,” Jenkins said. “It really gets to the point where the less you can visit your machine, the more profitable you can make it.”

Kodak has already placed these wireless Internet-linked vending machines at 30 locations. These include ski resorts at Steamboat Springs, CO, and Killington, VT; the Philadelphia and Atlanta zoos; Penn's Landing in Philadelphia; and a couple of machines in the Philadelphia airport.

“What we found was that 90 percent of the vending business is incremental, so we see that as a big opportunity,” Kodak's Forte said.

Besides dispensing disposable cameras and film, the new Maytag vending machine can also work for the beverages industry.

“It should work for the soft drink industry and the bottlers,” Jenkins said. “Their assets are very far out of their reach. … We're also working with a Pepsi account.”

E-Vend.net recently ran a one-off promotional program for Polo Ralph Lauren's Polo jeans for selling T-shirts via the wireless Web machines. A similar effort for Joe Boxer's underwear and T-shirts through two wireless Web kiosks is still active.

While this is Kodak's first dabble in wireless Internet machines, it is not its maiden effort to sell products through kiosks.

“Kodak has attempted to sell some of their products through vending machines, but they did not have the opportunity to have them connected to the Internet,” Jenkins said, “so they lost touch with their assets. They weren't able to manage them as productively as we can now.”

Forte agreed.

“We did some vending tests in the early '90s, and we found that a couple of things didn't work out within our program,” she said. “And one of the things we never knew was what the inventory was in those locations. We never knew when it was running low.

“[Also] those were cash machines, and that would get vandalized. So with this new Internet vending machine, we can track inventory and we know when the machine needs inventory. And there's no cash in the machine, so the possibility of vandalism is a lot less.”

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