The wave of the future: vending for cell phones

Filed under: Retail |

Motorola Inc. has unveiled “Instantmoto,” a “robotic store” stocked with phones and phone accessories. Not exactly a stuffed animal or a bag of chips, but a similar format.

The giant vending machines have a robotic arm that picks up an item and places it at the customer’s disposal.

Beginning as a pilot program in 20 locations nationwide, Instantmoto will be targeted at airports and malls. A Macy’s store in Chicago and the San Francisco International Airport will be the first to test the machine.

If the pilot program succeeds, more stores are expected to follow, said Bob Many, Motorola’s director of automated retailing.

Each machine is designed to hold about 30 products, including phones, headsets and phone chargers.

The phones, ranging from the Razr to the Q, can be purchased with or without a service plan from a carrier.

The machines are operated by Zoom Systems of San Francisco.

Motorola, the world’s second-largest maker of mobile phones, claims it’s the first to take this approach to selling gadgets.

The “robotic stores” are run from a central location, like automated teller machines, and provide product specifications.

Most offer consumer electronics made by several companies, including Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod music player.

Zoom also recently began operating stores that are customized for individual companies such as Sony.

Breakfast at McDonald’s around the clock

A new kitchen design might give McDonald’s the capability to serve breakfast all day.

McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner announced during an investment conference in San Francisco that the world’s leading fast food chain will be rolling out new restaurants where breakfast items could be featured all day.

The new design features a kitchen capable of cooking Egg McMuffins and Big Macs at the same time.

Breakfast can account for up to 25 percent of the sales at McDonald’s 31,800 restaurants across the globe.

Analysts say McDonald’s morning menu offers the highest profit margins, yet it may put strain on the kitchen staff and increase the costs to train employees to deal with more than one menu at a time.

There is no timeline for when the all-day breakfast will be in place. Analysts say it’s likely to be rolled out slowly.

Starbucks ups its costs for a cup of coffee

Rising business costs, such as health care and raw ingreadients, are forcing Starbucks Corp. to raise the price of its coffee by about five cents a cup.

The price increase will take effect Oct. 3 for all company-owned stores in the United States and most stores in Canada. It doesn’t apply to bottled beverages, only to brewed coffee, espresso beverages and all other drinks made behind the coffee bar.

Starbucks also plans to raise the price of 23 whole-bean coffee varieties by about 50 cents per pound.

The last price increase on its whole-bean coffees was about nine years ago and the last increase on drinks was in 2004.

Prices of some types of commodity coffee have climbed more than 9 percent compared to a year ago.

The price increase comes as Starbucks faces growing competition in the coffee market from McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Consumers not spooked by Halloween this year

Halloween appears to be more than just an excuse to turn the kiddies loose in the neighborhood in search of tasty treats.

Americans are expected to spend $5 billion, 50 percent more than last year, on candy, decorations and costumes for trick-or-treating, according to a study released by the National Retail Federation.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans plan to celebrate All Hallows Eve this year, a significant increase from last year, when half of Americans celebrated the day.

“In recent years, we’ve gradually seen it become a seasonal holiday. It’s no longer just a couple days of you see families decorating their front porches and homes,” said Kathy Grannis, an NRF spokeswoman. “It’s definitely become one of the holidays we like to look at as spanning across all niches, all sectors of the retail industry.”

About three-quarters of people plan to pass out candy and one-third plan to dress in costume, according to the study.

About 17 percent of people plan to celebrate the day with a trip to a haunted house.

The average consumer plans to spend $59.06 on Halloween, whether on candy, costumes or decorations, according to the NRF. Last year, the average person spent $48.48.

The increased spending has retailers expanding their Halloween selection.

While Wal-Mart still has child-friendly treats and decorations, it also has products targeted at adults who want to decorate and more “sophisticated” items such as a cast-iron tea-light tree.

Halloween is the second-biggest decorating day after Christmas. About 67 percent of Americans plan to purchase decorations this year, up from 60 percent last year.

Sixty percent of Americans plan to buy costumes this year — up from 53 percent last year. And they will spend an average of $21.57.

Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.