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Robotic Retail

Will high-end vending machines push the right buttons with consumers?

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This story appears in the July 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Dropping a couple of bucks into a vending machine for a soda and a candy bar isn't a big deal. But will consumers swipe their credit cards to dispense a $300 iPod?

Gower Smith thinks they will. The founder of Zoom Systems in San Francisco has developed automated robotic stores--or high-end vending machines--which are now in more than 100 U.S. locations, including airports, grocery stores and hotels. The machines dispense everything from cell phones to ink cartridges, raking in between $1,000 to $15,000 per square foot per year, with an average store measuring approximately 30 to 40 square feet.

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