How self-service helps a healing products retailer weather COVID-19| Coping with COVID-19

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While the company was initially interested in self-service technology to improve customer convenience, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated how important this benefit can be for a Earthly Mist.

When Earthly Mist, a Tulsa, Oklahoma based retailer of natural healing products, first installed a vending machine in one of its stores about a year ago, the goal was to make products available to customers 24/7. The machine is located in an adjacent lobby that is accessible after regular business hours .

How Self-service Helps A Healing Products Retailer Weather COVID-19| Coping With COVID-19
Earthly Mist chose the American Green machine for its age verification capability.

“We really wanted to be able to offer our products on a 24-hour basis,” Danelle Pierce, company manager, told this website during a phone interview. “We have people that come in at two in the morning, six in the morning, midnight, and they’re able to pick up product at whatever time they need,” she said.

COVID-19 strikes

The investment proved especially helpful when the state government issued a “safer at home” executive order in March. Customers could still buy products while the store was closed because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The company, which has four stores and a warehouse/production facility, has since added more machines to make its products conveniently available to customers. Most of the machines are located in store lobbies that can be accessed when the stores are closed.

Since many of the products are age restricted, the company selected a machine from American Green, a provider of a “smart” vending solution which provides biometric age verification. American Green retrofits equipment from vending OEMs with its own software and touchscreen. The machine uses vein biometrics to identify the customer and match them to a record they create for themselves when they register at the machine.

The customer holds their ID in front of the machine’s camera or in front of a security camera in the store which an employee can view remotely.

“After that, they are registered and they can come in and use it any time,” Pierce said. The customer can also access any machine in the company’s network. “That (registration) has to be done either at the camera or in person during store hours. After the first time, they have access to it 24 hours,” she said. The verification requires an attendant.

“We’ve let our clients know that even through forced shutdowns due to government restrictions, our popular products will remain available to them for purchase any time of the day or night,” she said. “Our ‘contact-free’ solution has greatly relieved consumer and employee anxiety and allowed us to continue to offer access to our products during these uncertain times. We’re in a unique situation because we have (attended) retail and vending machines.”

Self-service allows discounts

The company promotes the machine by discounting the prices by as much as 50% of the store prices. A certain 1-ounce powder that sells for $10 in the store, for instance, costs $5 in the machine. The discounts are made possible by the elimination of labor.

How Self-service Helps A Healing Products Retailer Weather COVID-19| Coping With COVID-19
Danelle Pierce says cash remains important to Earthly Mist customers.

Pierce did not wish to reveal sales information, but said machine sales were rising faster than store sales prior to COVID-19, which she credits to the lower prices. The machines are averaging about 1,200 products dispensed monthly. The system’s software makes it easy to keep track of sales, inventory and profitability.

All store inventory is available in the machines. The top selling items are the top sellers in both the store and from the machine. The highest priced product in the machine costs $12.

Cash acceptance remains important

The machine is also able to accept both cash and credit cards, which is important considering the customer base the store caters to tends to use cash, Pierce said.

The mix is presently 50/50 between cash and cashless, but Pierce thinks cash payments will grow. The company has installed an ATM to support cash payment in one store.

“If one form of payment is not working, then we have the other one,” she said.

A versatile machine

The machine’s digital screen, which can loop four MP4 videos back to back, came in handy when the card reader was not working. The screen allowed them to advise customers when the card reader would be fixed. The digital screen normally plays a “how to use” video and a description of the available products.

The machine also allowed the company to continue offering its products in a location where it closed one of its stores, thanks to its remote monitoring technology. The manager of a nearby Earthly Mist store stocks the machine two to three times per week.

Earthly Mist to plans to have a kiosk in every store as it expands, along with freestanding machines, Pierce said.

While the company was interested in self-service technology to improve customer convenience, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated how important this benefit can be for a retailer.

For an update on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the kiosk industry, click here.

Images courtesy of Earthly Mist.

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