Tiny Robotic Kroger Invades College Campus

Ah, progress. Thanks to advances in vending-machine technology, tiny robotic convenience stores have opened up shop in apartment complexes and on college campuses nationwide. Sure, consumers in Europe and Japan had similar stuff a decade or more ago. But they don’t have the world’s tiniest Kroger, which is about the size of a bus shelter and opened last month on the campus of private Ohio Northern University.

Other campuses across the country have robotic convenience stores as well, but without grocery store branding. The refrigerated machines come from Ohio company Shop24, and can vend items up to eight pounds. They accept cash, cards, and in some places take food-stamp cards. In the case of the Robo-Kroger, since store discount cards aren’t an option, the items will automatically have the discount prices card holders would get. Prices are the same as at the Kroger 15 miles from campus that stocks the machine.

Kroger debuts kiosk concept at area college campus [Toledo Blade] (Thanks, DFP!)
Kroger Installs Shop24 Robotic Store At Ohio Northern University [Vending Market Watch]


Edit Your Comment

  1. bennilynn says:

    ” Prices are the same as at the Kroger 15 miles from campus that stocks the machine.”

    That’s what really makes this awesome. If there wasn’t a massive added convenience charge, heck, I’d use it. I already pay a ‘convenience charge’ by going to Walgreens on the corner instead of HEB around the block just because I don’t want to deal with crowds and lines when buying just a few things.

    Still, a machine that big with that many moving parts and some items as heavy as eight pounds… I’d imagine it would break a lot and be difficult to maintain.

  2. Cat says:

    I would install one in Washington DC to dispense hookers and blow.

  3. Guppy06 says:

    “Sure, consumers in Europe and Japan had similar stuff a decade or more ago.”

    They also have the equivalent of dollar coins with which to pay for things. Instead, vending machines in the US are held back by the need for dollar bill readers, particularly ones that can compensate for the complete lack of care people show for a piece of paper worth only $1.

    • George4478 says:

      Held back by the need to use technology that’s been in use for decades and in millions of machines? And could be used in milions more?

      I’m not seeing how dollar-scanning technology is preventing a vending machine rennaisance.

      • elangomatt says:

        Not to mention the fact I have seen soda machines with card readers on them for a number of years now. Many people don’t even bother carrying cash much anymore, myself among them.

        • Guppy06 says:

          Maybe card readers will finally allow the US to catch up to the civilized world with respect to automation like this.

          And maybe plastic-only machines will become the norm, allowing vendors to jack up prices to cover transaction fees, pricing themselves out of all but the instant-gratification market.

      • Guppy06 says:

        In use for decades, yes, but still considerably more expensive and less reliable than coin receptacles. This keeps a downward pressure on the price of things you can sell reliably through a vending machine, as you can’t guarantee that every valid $1 bill will be accepted, and you’d rather make a sale than turn away customers whose bills aren’t clean and crisp enough.

    • Conformist138 says:

      $1 or $20…. you still need a bill reader either way.

      • Guppy06 says:

        People care for $20’s, since they’re worth $20. That’s why they last twice as long, and are easier to discern. Also, being worth $20, it’s worth the effort by the Fed to redesign them to be more easily read by machines. You’ll note the lack of a fluorescent strip in or reflective inks on the $1 bill.

    • padarjohn says:

      In Japan they have EDY and SUICA RFID cards. I used them while I was over there on a business trip, and absolutely loved them.

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    What, no fresh produce?

  5. jenl1625 says:

    Where was this when I was at ONU? :-(

  6. AndrewSP says:

    Kroger was testing that exact same type of machine here in Columbus at one of their stores near campus. It was already in front of an existing store, so it’s only selling point was that it was 24 hours unlike the store. It sat at the fuel center for years until they removed it just a few months ago.

    At first I thought the experiment was a failure since no more machines ever popped up, but now I kind of wonder if they just moved the same machine up there where it would be more useful.

  7. Greg Ohio says:

    How many kinds of beer does it stock?

    • Laura Northrup says:

      When I was in college, we had an ancient Coke machine with cans instead of bottles in my co-op dorm. We stocked it ourselves, and the person with that job had to have a car and be over 21. Because when you pressed the “OTHER” button, out came a can of Utica Club.

  8. ahecht says:

    Looks like they only stock items starting with the letter “C”: Chips, Crackers, Candy, Canned Soup, Cup O’ Noodles, other Carbs, and Condoms.

    Sucks if you’re trying to have a balanced diet.

  9. DemosCat says:

    This same idea was tried back in the 1970’s. Not robotic; there was a person on duty inside fulfilling the order. Needless to say, the idea of a drive-thru grocery flopped. It seems people like to see what they are buying, like not selecting the dozen broken eggs container.

  10. quail says:

    This is perfect for college campuses. You know how many times I had to walk to a nasty convenience store before it closed at 9 pm just to get stale, overpriced bread back in the day? (Yes, it was uphill both ways too.)

    The real question, however, is whether it dispenses condoms.

  11. Mimbla says:

    The headline of this article made my morning.

  12. kc2idf says:

    “. . . since store discount cards aren’t an option . . .”

    Why not? Last I checked, most discount cards were machine-readable.

    • Daggertrout says:

      The Kroger gas station even has a barcode scanner built into the pump so you can get your gas discount too!

      • elangomatt says:

        Its a good thing it has that bar code reader too, since the magnetic strip on my Kroger card has long since been worn off, but the barcode is still readable.

        • kc2idf says:

          I’m not in Kroger territory, but here in Price Chopper territory, the discount card is also good at some participating Sunoco stations. At Price Chopper stores themselves, they usually use the barcode on the card (if you swipe the magstrip, the terminal will tell you to give the card to the cashier for scanning), BUT, the gas stations that are participating in the program don’t have barcode readers. At these, you use the magstripe.

          Now, that said, both the gas stations and the stores have options for no-interaction-with-staff purchases. Pay at the pump or self-service line, whichever is appropriate, both allow you to use your discount card by letting a machine read it.

  13. Outrun1986 says:

    This is really awesome if they keep the prices the same as in the stores. Most college campus bookstores purposely overcharge for basic necessities so this is something that is much needed on campus, especially if the school is not in a college town that has more options than the bookstores.

  14. jimbobjoe says:

    I saw the one here in Columbus when it was being tested and it certainly was not the same price as the store. I distinctly remember Prego costing $3-$4 a jar, which is horrific for that awful tomato paste.