Using video and music, Sony will test kiosk retailing

Last week, in shopping malls in Atlanta; Boulder, CO; and Santa Rosa, CA, Sony began an experiment with what it calls “robotic stores,” a new automated retailing concept that uses electronic media to sell consumer electronics.

Sony will sell media products in kiosks in an effort to increase sales by melding the simplicity of online buying with the immediate gratification of a store purchase, The New York Times reported.

The Sony-branded kiosks will come in versions 4ft and 8ft wide, with a touch screen that will display product information, movie trailers and music videos. The machines will be used to sell Sony products that include digital cameras, music players, CDs, DVDs, batteries, Flash memory and accessories. Customers will select a product on the screen, swipe a credit card and a robotic arm will deliver the item.

Product and pricing information is updated via an Internet connection. As sales are made, purchase data is transmitted to a fulfillment center for analysis and rapid product replenishment, the Times said.

If the concept takes off, the company envisions enabling purchasers of music players to download Sony music on the spot, using a USB input on the side of the kiosk. Another possibility is offering sample chapters of best sellers when buying Sony's portable electronic book reader.

The kiosk technology, product restocking and customer billing will be handled by Zoom Systems, a San Francisco-based company. Zoom, which licensed the robotic technology from an undisclosed Japanese manufacturer and added its own software, currently operates 100 similar kiosks throughout the country.

Zoom recently signed an agreement with Federated Department Stores to install kiosks selling iPods and accessories in 180 Macy’s branches. The company provides turnkey service and shares revenue with the property owner.