Thursday, October 8, 2009

Living in the age of consumer self-service

We’re living in the age of consumer self-service. What started with ATMs, pay-at-the-pump gas and Internet e-commerce has spread into many areas of American life. That includes self-checkout at grocery stores, automated DVD rental machines, and restaurant self-ordering kiosks.
For more information on this fascinating trend, check out my package of stories and photos in the Oct. 9, 2009, issue of Investor’s Business Daily or online at
In the package, I cover the overall trend of consumer self-service technology, take a look at the fast-growing market for food-ordering kiosks, and provide a timeline of major milestones for the industry.

Cultural implications of consumer self-service

On a lighter note, the age of consumer self-service technology will have some interesting cultural ramifications.
For instance, young men can buy condoms without feeling embarrassed handing the box to a store clerk. Instead they can go to a self-checkout register to pay for them. This video by CollegeHumor on the subject came out last month.
How far will consumer self-service go? On the sitcom “Seinfeld,” Kramer had an idea for a make-your-own-pizza restaurant. Will this happen? Probably not. But robotic pizza machines that make custom pizzas on the spot? Maybe.

Speaking of food, one long-time area of self-service tech has been vending machines.
MooBella, a company based in Taunton, Mass., is marketing a “make-your-own” ice cream machine, according to the Boston Globe. The vending machines will offer 12 ice cream flavors as well as add-ons such as M&Ms. (See photo of machine above.)
Japan is way ahead of the U.S. in terms of using vending machines to sell stuff. The country has vending machines for beer, eggs, umbrellas, neckties, batteries, you name it. See list and photos of Cool Japanese Vending Machines here.
The Wikipedia entry on vending machines also has a lot of interesting examples. My favorite is the machine that makes fresh French fries in Australia. Sounds yummy.

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