Shipping containers, originally designed for transporting goods, appear to be about to find yet another new application in our cities. Following on from adaptations in the hotel and tourism industries and also as space for accommodating companies, the automatic food and drink vending business is the latest sector to find a novel use for these huge metal cases. The concept that Boulder, Colorado-based ShelfX has come up with is based on retrofitted containers with sliding doors that open when a customer swipes his/her credit or debit card in the slot or uses a special app. ShelfX started out selling unattended refrigerated retailing machines back in 2011. Unlike traditional vending machines, the customer actually unlocks the automated food kiosk with a bank card or – a recent addition – via mobile payments service Venmo and the payment goes through when s/he shuts the door again. This also enables the customer to read nutritional information on the items that s/he is interested in and to purchase several items in the same transaction. A remote monitoring system enables inventory management for re-stocking purposes. With the shipping container version, ShelfX offers six fridge units and two freezer compartments, plus a coffee machine, in a single space. The company has already won over customers among hospitals, universities, transport centres such as railway stations and airports and even golf clubs, in 18 countries, and is now bidding to be the solution of choice for communities that do not currently have a grocery store or for people attending open-air sports events. The idea is to provide those consumers with a food retail outlet open 24/7, without the need for any checkout staff.
By Marie-Eléonore Noiré