By Harry McCracken | Monday, August 25, 2008 at 2:01 pm
A couple of weeks ago, Best Buy announced that it was working with a company called Zoom Systems to install electronics vending machines inside airports. I blog to you this afternoon from the international terminal at San Francisco’s SFO, where I’m waiting for a plane–and where I just spent some time with one of these “Best Buy Express” kiosks.
Zoom Systems has been installing automated electronics kiosks in airports and other locations for years now. (There’s one in my local Macy’s.) So the Best Buy news is more about a marketing partnership than technological innovation of any sort. The machine is the standard Zoom Systems machine, with Best Buy signage and a touch screen that has some of the look and feel of BestBuy.com:
The kiosk I saw was almost always been gawked at by one or more curious travelers:
In fact, the throngs of spectators were thick enough that if you wanted to buy something, you might have had to wait, or elbow your way to the front of the line. In the ten minutes or so that I hung around and watched the scene, several people seemed to ready to buy, but didn’t–one family seemed within moments of buying a Nintendo DS Lite, then walked away. The one real customer I saw–he bought some headphones–seemed tickled. But he also seemed to have trouble with the touch screen: He kept pounding away at on-screen buttons, and they didn’t respond. And at the end of his transaction, the kiosk asked him to take a survey; if I’d been waiting to buy something, I’d have been ticked off. (Seems like anything that encourages people to move at a leisurely pace at an airport is a mistake.)
I suspect that I’m not alone in being instinctively suspicious about merchants of any sort in airports: I assume that the stuff they sell sports rip-off pricetags until proven otherwise. So I jotted down some prices at the kiosk, then compared them to BestBuy.com once I got to my gate. (Yes, I’m a nerd.) The bottom line:
–nearly everything cost the same at the airport and online, including iPods, the DS Lite, a Nikon Coolpix S550 camera, and an unlocked Sony Ericsson phone.
–The Pure Flip DV camera was $149.99 at the airport; that was the standard price online, but it was on sale for $129.99. Apparently, Best Buy sale prices don’t apply out here.
–a FujiFilm J10 camera was $129.99 at both Best Buy incarnations, except it was on sale for $116.99 online.
–A pair of portable Sony speakers were $29.99 at SFO, and $34.99 online. Even a sale price on the site–$33.24–wasn’t as cheap as the airport price. Take a trip, save a few bucks!
I hereby declare my suspicions mostly invalid in this case–for the most part, Best Buy Express prices are Best Buy prices.
A few other notes:
–I’m confused by the idea of buying an iPod at the airport, since it’ll be empty. Do people pick up one for a trip, then realize that it’s useless until they can fill it with music? Wouldn’t it be neat if you could buy a pre-filled iPod for such occassions?
–Anyone who’s ever bought a bag of pretzels or a soft drink from a vending machine has seen instances when a balky product gets wedged in the machine and doesn’t tumble into the dispenser. The Best Buy Express kiosk tries to assuage any fears with a note saying that if your product isn’t properly dispensed, you won’t be charged;
The touch screen provides some buying advice, including something called “Digital Cameras 101.” If you need something by that title, you shouldn’t be buying a camera as you’re about to hop on a plane. And I wouldn’t want to be in line to buy something while another customer in front of me learned the basics of digital photography;
–Right next to the Best Buy Express here, there’s something called Sony Access–an identical Zoom Systems machine that sells only Sony stuff. It was out of order, but people were gawking at it, too;
–This terminal had a third Zoom Systems kiosk that sold mostly snacks–Wheat Thins, Pringles, and Starburst Fruit Chews. Wonder if Zoom has approached 7-Eleven to open 7-Eleven Expresses?
Would I use a Best Buy Express? Maybe. If I did, I’d probably be like that guy who bought the headphones, and pick up something cheap and small I’d forgotten to pack. How about you?