Retail Customer Experience:  Pennsylvania’s New Wine Kiosks Get Panned

Jul 15, 2010

By James Bickers, Editor

Through a special arrangement, presented here for
discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience,
a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping

In December, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) announced
it would test self-service wine-dispensing kiosks in a select number of grocery
stores, and the first two just opened for business at a Wegmans and a Giant

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. The kiosks could carry up to 500 bottles of as many as 50
wines at varying prices.

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 entire purchasing
process is estimated to take less than 20 seconds.

“The self-service kiosks are an exciting new opportunity for consumers
to pick up their groceries and a bottle of their favorite wine to compliment
their dinner all in one stop,” PLCB Board Chairman Patrick J. ‘PJ’ Stapleton
said in a statement. “While our PLCB stores continue to provide excellent
customer service and a wider variety of products, the kiosks are a way to give
our customers an added level of convenience in today’s busy society.”

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.

to a PLCB press release, the breathalyzer is set to the state’s “zero
tolerance” level of .02 blood alcohol — so if a shopper has had a
beer with dinner, he would not be allowed to complete the purchase.

To say the
wine enthusiast community’s reaction has been negative would be an understatement.
The biggest complaint appeared to be not being able to hold the bottle and
read the labels before committing to the purchase. Others included the restriction
over only being able to pay by credit card, limited information on each wine,
and sanitary concerns over the breathalyzer.

At the blog The Wine Culture
, the kiosk has been singled out
as the “Worst wine idea of the year.” Writer John Kafarski laments
that the use of the kiosks turns wine buying into “nothing more than soda
in a vending machine.”

The press release also said that if the program
is well received, it will launch another 100 of the machines, “as part
of the PLCB’s multi-faceted
effort to enhance customer convenience.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think of wine kiosks as a selling tool?
Can you suggest improvements to the kiosk being introduced by the PLCB? What
do you think of kiosks’ ability to prevent liquor sales to minors?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

16 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience:  Pennsylvania’s New Wine Kiosks Get Panned"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Marge Laney
10 years 9 months ago

I like the idea of being able to get information about wine and food pairing at the point of purchase. Beyond that this leaves me cold. Blowing into a breathalyzer? Having someone watching me to make sure I’m the person on the drivers license? What am I buying Ripple or Boone’s Farm? Why not just put a person at the end of the transaction to check IDs and do away with all of this nonsense like they do everywhere else?

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
10 years 9 months ago
Seems like an elaborate procedure to help consumers make a wine choice. If that is the goal, the expense is not worth the outcome. However, with a special location, door, and a two way camera, this is a strategy to control for the age of someone purchasing wine. The breathalyzer test controls for the current alcohol level of the consumer. Unless there is a breathalyzer test for every consumer purchasing all kinds of alcohol, this does not appear to be something that will hold up in court. Even if it applies to everyone, it is a more stringent standard than separate alcohol stores so may not stand up in court. The ability to check the driver’s license or ID by using the two way camera may or may not work well. My last question is, if this is a tool for selling wine, it is not set up for selling any other kind of alcohol–do the stores have space for two separate alcohol sections? I see lots of questions so can not evaluate the feasibility… Read more »
Ron Margulis
10 years 9 months ago
If we weren’t talking about Pennsylvania, this would be a classic example of a technology solution looking for a problem. But it is Pennsylvania, and they do have strict and almost arcane laws for the distribution of wine, spirits and beer. So, short of changing the law, which has been tried for decades–there are even several Facebook pages dedicated to getting beer to be sold in supermarkets and c-stores–technology should be considered to help get alcohol to the off-premises consuming public in venues other than states liquor stores. I just don’t see the kiosk as described doing the trick. First, I’m suspicious of most kiosks. Other than ATMs (including the change machines) and travel/entertainment ticket machines (including DVD rental), what kiosk concepts have really taken hold in America or even around the world? Certainly the only kiosks that have been effective in the supermarket are ATMs and DVD rentals. Second, I question the ROI on this contraption. Retailers will still need to stock and clean the machine. There is a staffer from the government that… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
10 years 9 months ago

The Pennsylvania laws are bizarre. Perhaps it is time for this state to join the 21st Century or even the 20th Century.

I can only conclude that there is massive inertia within the Pennsylvania State government to keep the state involved in the alcohol business.

I suspect that the kiosk system was a response to impatient citizens who recognize how that the Pennsylvania system makes no sense at all. It appears this is not a solution. I can not comprehend how the citizens of Pennsylvania could find this entire structure acceptable.

This is Nanny state at its utmost.

Ryan Mathews
10 years 9 months ago

The kiosk has some potential. Everything after that should be recycled.

Steve Bowler
Steve Bowler
10 years 9 months ago

More likely to catch on are Internet and Mobile apps like HelloVino that help consumers find the right wine for price and occasion. Government involvement is only likely to be expensive and fail.

Kevin Graff
10 years 9 months ago

Having done much work for many liquor retailers, this idea seems like a bit of a dud. Wine retailing is moving more and more towards ‘experience’ and ‘discovery’. Liquor boards in Canada are continually upping the ante by building fabulous new, big stores. Slapping some wine in a vending machine, and in the process sucking the life out of an enjoyable shopping experience, seems to be a big step backwards. For the amount of money they must be investing in the technology and support, they could have probably designed, built, stocked and staffed dozens and dozens of stores.

Back to the drawing board….

tony schiano
10 years 9 months ago

Very unlikely to catch on. Due to archaic liquor laws, and a strong retail clerks union lobby with the PA legislature, the state remains both the wholesaler and the retailer. This is the commissioner’s way to break this stranglehold, but it is futile. I give him credit for trying, but the legislature has to step up to the plate and deal with this.

Robert Straub
Robert Straub
10 years 9 months ago

Is it ironic that they have come up with a 21st Century solution to solve a 19th Century problem? Regardless, this is a nightmare for real wine lovers. As a former Pennsylvanian, I can state from experience the only true solution is to reform the laws.

Jonathan Marek
10 years 9 months ago

So you have to be treated like a criminal to buy wine in Pennsylvania? What about finger printing? Maybe a waiting period?

This is insane. Glad I live in California!

James Tenser
10 years 9 months ago

This is my nominee for “Workaround of the Decade.”

I don’t see how these large-footprint vending systems can possibly deliver ROI to their retail hosts, if for no other reason than they prevent more than one individual from shopping the category at one time. Limited assortment is another negative, and then you want me to put my mouth where?

From a tech and business practice perspective, it would seem much easier and productive to smash the clay tablets of PA state law and permit food stores to obtain licenses to stock and sell beer and wine. The political obstacles are another matter entirely–which is why this colossal kludge seemed like a viable idea to some clueless wonk.

Al McClain
Al McClain
10 years 9 months ago

Wow. Only government could come up with an idea this bizarre. I would have to be REALLY desperate to go through this nonsense. Oh, and all the data is ‘confidential’ and we ‘only keep it for 30 days anyway’. And, blow into this breathalyzer and then look into the screen and talk to the government official and we’ll decide if we want to open the doors to the case for you to sneak out your bottle. The only thing good about this is it will be a great Saturday Night Live skit.

One question–if the machine determines you are over the limit, does it reach out and grab your car keys?

Knuckleheaded ideas like this are one reason U.S. consumers have so little faith in their governments.

Craig Sundstrom
10 years 9 months ago

“The entire purchasing process is estimated to take less than 20 seconds.”

Until the scanner/breathalyzer/videocam malfunctions or needs to be reset (“Vern, lady blew a .023: I called the state troopers…now how do I reset this danged thing?”): I’d say add 15 minutes to that estimate. Which will probably also be about the length of time this trial lasts.

OTOH, I feel glad to be in California too (or at least less miserable)…who’d have thought two people would be saying that right now?

Cathy Hotka
10 years 9 months ago

What a dumb idea. Who in the world is going to stand around waiting for all these processes in order to spend $7 on a bottle of wine? There’s a reason why most gas stations have sub-second credit card acceptance…people will give up and move on if machines seem not to respond. Nice try, Pennsylvania.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 9 months ago

Pennsylvania wine kiosks experiment getting panned is wise. This experiment is not necessary and certainly not what a wine consumer would want to go through to purchase what he wants.

Let’s move onto something else and allow this to die peacefully.

Mark Burr
10 years 9 months ago

You’d have to be pretty desperate for some wine to go through the hassle of this contraption. Those that might be that desperate wouldn’t pass the test to begin with. Dumb just doesn’t seem the right word. It is a nicer word than what I’m thinking.


Take Our Instant Poll

How likely are wine kiosks to catch on?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...