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Archive for July 9th, 2010

As many know, Pennsylvania has some strange and confusing liquor laws.  As a result, though, they are getting wine vending machines in grocery stores.

What I find interesting along with the silly laws is the technology they are using, and it’s potential for additional applications.

The machines are about the size of four large refrigerators, though the wines are kept at room temperature. An ATM-type device sits at one end.

A customer chooses a wine on a touch-screen display, swipes an ID, blows into an alcohol sensor (no contact with the machine is required) and looks into a surveillance camera. A state employee in Harrisburg remotely approves the sale after verifying the buyer isn’t drunk and matches the photo ID.

State officials say the process takes 20 seconds. The kiosks only take credit or debit cards, and they’re closed on Sundays and holidays. A “convenience fee” of $1 would be added after the pilot phase.

The machine got a warm reception at Giant, where customers asked lots of questions and perused brochures describing the 53 available wines, from Argentine malbecs to California merlots.

Simple Brands President Jim Lesser doesn’t anticipate much business from connoisseurs, but they’re not the targeted demographic.

“They were developed for the average consumer who wants a nice bottle of wine with their steak and seafood,” Lesser said.

Japan and Europe have beer vending machines, but Lesser said the self-serve alcohol concept probably wouldn’t have worked in the U.S. until now. Today, he noted, Americans use kiosks for everything from buying movie tickets to checking in for airplane flights.

Exit surveys show customers like the wine kiosks’ convenience and easy use, and early sales have exceeded expectations, said Lesser. Eventually, the machines may be seen in other states, he said.

It would be easier to just eliminate the restrictions on liquor purchases in the state, but it’s a neat idea.

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