Wine-buying kiosk fails basic test of making a task easier

June 28, 2010 by Dave Haynes

How about taking the experience of buying a bottle of wine and giving it all the pleasure of renewing your license plate sticker?

That’s what the state of Pennsylvania has in mind, apparently, with a new automated wine-dispensing system that gets rid of those pesky state liquor store employees and puts all the bottles of wine into a cabinet you can only get at after using a kiosk system.

The best decription I can come up with is “Gloriously stupid.” Ken Goldberg tweeted that he wondered if the person who green-lighted the project would have passed a breathalyzer.

Retail Customer Experience has a piece up about the project:

Pennsylvania is known for having some of the tightest alcohol control laws in the United States. The distribution system is owned and operated by the state government, which issues licenses to retailers under a quota system. Retailers in the state have a number of hoops to jump through if they want alcohol on their shelves, including a restricted list of brands that they are allowed to carry.

In December, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (the agency that issues the licenses) announced it would test self-service wine-dispensing kiosks in a select number of grocery stores, and yesterday, the first two opened for business at Wegmans Food Market and GIANT Food.

Designed in roughly the same shape as a Zoom Shop but longer, the kiosk’s touchscreen guides the shopper through the wine selection process and offers food pairing tips. On checkout, the user is asked to scan his driver’s license and credit or debit card, then must breathe into a breathalyzer unit to check for intoxication. A live agent at the PLCB looks at the shopper through a two-way video connection to personally ensure that the buyer is the person on the driver’s license. The shopper then walks to the appropriate door on the unit, where a single bottle of the chosen vino awaits, while the rest of the bottles in the machine remain behind security gates.

The piece goes on to say the wine community is less than enthused, to put it mildly.

The best kiosks out there are those that make something easier. This makes buying a bottle of wine far harder and seriously less fun.

Back when dinosaurs wandered the earth and I was a young man, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario kept all of its booze bottles in the back room of its stores. To get a bottle of something, you actually had to leaf through a catalogue and find what you wanted without ever getting near the actual bottle. Being a teenager, I naturally had the SKU numbers memorized for my faves, so I would go straight to filling in the little form and handing it off at what equated to a parts counter at an auto dealer. The clerk would disappear and come back with a bottle wrapped in brown paper.

This program almost takes consumers back to those bad old days. It’s a pilot program, and something tells me it won’t ever get beyond pilot stage.

More background here …

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