“Automated Retail Stores May Change the Face of Retailing” from Clark Howard

The New York Times reports that high-tech vending machines called automated retail stores will become an increasingly important part of the future of retailing.

A new generation of vending machines with touch screens, “electronic eyes” and other unique features will offer what you want, when you want it, all while eliminating the danger of having a lone clerk work a graveyard shift at a brick-and-mortar store. They’re also more profitable per square foot than traditional retail businesses, according to the newspaper.

The array of things automated retail stores already offer consumers ranges from the convenient to the downright kooky.

“Vending machines in neon-splashed Tokyo have electronic eyes that evaluate customers’ skin and wrinkles to determine whether they are old enough to buy tobacco,” the newspaper writes. “In bathrooms at upscale Canadian bars, vending machines with flat irons enable women to defrizz their locks. In Abu Dhabi, the lobby of a luxury hotel has a vending machine that dispenses gold bars and coins at more than $1,000 an ounce.”

This emerging wave of technology can be a real game-changer, according to Clark. Think about how RedBox.com upset the traditional DVD rental model with its self-service DVD kiosks and nearly put places like Blockbuster out of business.

If you’re an entrepreneurial type, where can you apply this new technology to meet a need and also fatten your own wallet?