I thought the Freestyle Coke machines and touch-screen, meal-ordering systems that keep popping up in restaurants were going to be all the unmanned, automated, de-humanizing product-offering and/or dispensing machines out there for a while.
Nope. After finding a "Freeosk" that dispensed Rice Krispies treats at the local Sam's Club, I am now convinced that human-free kiosk machines are what we will rely on to feed, clothe, entertain and possibly bathe us in the future.
Shopping at the Sam's Club at 7805 East 35th Avenue is always fun for me, because I can buy cases of super-important things like Skittles, beer and heartburn medication. This past weekend, on the way to the check-out stand with my weekly loot, I spotted a freestanding kiosk that advertised free samples of Rice Krispies treats -- all I had to do was swipe my member card.
The Freeosk was about the size of a soda or candy-vending machine; Freeosk Marketing Inc. (an affiliate company of Blue Sky Chicago, an in-store marketing-event company) has been peddling the kiosks since 2010.
These freestanding machines are the the latest technological advance in the field of sample-enticement marketing, which traditionally involves paid employees wearing gloves and hairnets, lots of little plastic cups and those tiny sampling spoons. Sampling is a fairly effective way to introduce customers -- and their expendable incomes -- to new products, and cutting out the middlemen seems like a cost-effective plan for companies. But the middlemen could find themselves out of jobs.
In the case of this Freeosk, I was surprised that Rice Krispies were the free samples being offered, since these are by no means new or exciting. Still, I subscribe to the pervading theory that free food tastes better, so I gently placed my card on the "scan" spot, and then watched as a single wrapped treat plopped down into the "grab" slot. And I also couldn't help but notice -- and admire -- the way Sam's Club had strategically placed cases of Rice Krispies Treats for purchase on the conveniently-placed product shelves on the machine.
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While I was devouring my treat, I couldn't help but imagine more possibilities for Freeosk samples -- heartburn medication, beer, Skittles. But I also couldn't help feeling pretty f*cking glad I wasn't currently employed as a person giving out product samples in stores...