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Sony Launches Vending Machines

San Diego — Sony Electronics will bring its chairman Howard Stringer’s “Sony United” directive to airports and shopping malls as it tests a new Sony vending kiosk to sell products from many of the company’s disparate operations.

The vending kiosks, which will be maintained and operated by Zoom Systems, will showcase and sell multiple formats of Sony recordable media, batteries, headphones, Walkman MP3 players and CD players, Sony digital cameras, Sony Pictures DVD and UMD videos, Sony music CDs, Vaio PC accessories and PlayStation games and PSP players.

Sony is calling the new retailing approach “Sony Access,” and will use it to both sell Sony goods and promote its brand name and products, said Joe Stinziano, Sony Electronics media and applications solutions division senior VP.

Sony will roll out the test program Monday, starting with units in Atlanta’s Mall of Georgia, Flatirons Mall in Boulder, Colo., and the Santa Rosa Mall in Santa Rosa, Calif. Next month a unit will be added in the Indianapolis Airport. Six additional locations will be added in the test period during July and August.

Initial venues include airports and shopping malls, but Stinziano said he expects it to branch out to upscale grocery stores and other non-traditional high-traffic areas.

“There are places today where we are not satisfying a need,” said Stinziano. “It may be a latent need, but it is a need, we believe.”

Each machine will hold about 50 SKUs, he said. Also, Sony will test a pair of double machines, which will sandwich between them a BRAVIA LCD monitor running clips of Sony content, such as trailers of upcoming feature films.

Double units will accommodate a wider selection of categories and SKU assortments.

Ease and speed of each transaction was considered paramount in developing the system, Stinziano said. Each unit is equipped with a 15-inch touch panel to take user selections.

“Within three clicks and two minutes you can be in and out with your item and your receipt,” he said.

The cashing out process was simplified to a swipe of a credit or debit card.

To prevent any snafus in delivery, each machine is outfitted with an array of sensors to track the movement of the product as it travels by an electronic arm from the display slot to a bucket dispenser. The transaction is quickly canceled if any anomalies are detected.

Each machine will carry a product assortment tailored to the location where it will be placed, Stinziano said, adding that kiosks placed in airports, for example, would contain noise-canceling headphones, because they are perfectly suited for air travelers.

Sony will use third-party research firms to periodically intercept customers and ask about their experience and how they liked the product selections.

In addition, each kiosk will be connected to the Internet, allowing Sony to monitor SKU turns and fine tune product offerings as required.

“This is all about learning, and all about developing a total brand experience for the customer,” Stinziano said, “We will use this to learn such things as: Are there sensitivities by location? Are there sensitivities that are seasonal? Are there sensitivities by price?”

“We believe that we will find that these are purchases that would not have occurred if these machines were not sitting there,” he continued. “The object is not to transfer a sale from location A to location B, whether those were going to be any of our retail partners or any of our direct establishments like Sony Style Stores or The thinking is there are additional purchases that could occur if we can reach customers more effectively.”

Pricing for products in the kiosks will be comparable to those in Sony Style stores, said Stinziano, adding, “It will be a little higher than the lowest street price.”

Sony worked with Zoom to customize the uni-branded vending machines and product assortments. Zoom will be responsible for stocking inventory and maintaining the machines.

“We felt that Zoom provided us with the best back-office capabilities to help us with replenishment and after care, as well,” said Stinziano.

He said Sony views Zoom as more than just another retail partner or another approach to direct selling.

“Zoom is a capabilities partner because they allow us to do this the way we want to do it,” said Stinziano. He added that Sony’s Sony Style division was consulted in developing the program so that the machines would “mimic the look and feel of a Sony Style store, as well as our Web site and our advertising.”