Rockflower eyes roll-out of automated retail machines in UK stations

A new retailing concept has made its debut at Clapham Junction train station in London, offering customers the chance to buy flowers via an automated kiosk or 'auto retail unit'.

Rockflower’s new machine – accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week – is located in the walkway between platform 7 and 8 at the station, and is the first of up to ten units the founders expect to open across the UK before the end of the year.

Unlike a traditional vending machine, products are selected by a customer via a touchscreen and paid for with a contactless bank card or mobile payment. The selected product lights up and other inventory goes dark, as a glass case opens to present the item once the payment has been accepted.

The Clapham Junction machine was launched after a two-year trial of the concept at Blackfriars London Underground station. A second permanent Rockflower unit is set to appear at Reading station later this month, with additional Greater London sites currently being assessed for their suitability.

Karen Berger, one of the four co-founders of Rockflower, told Essential Retail the business is split into two parts. It is part florist, procuring bouquets from the Netherlands to replenish and sell through its machine each day, and part tech solutions provider.

The founders envisage their technology, which is fitted with a dry air cooling system to keep items fresh, being used by third parties selling non-flower products, and Berger said Rockflower has been “approached by many people” about partnerships of this ilk.

“In normal vending machines, you have no idea what to replenish, but our software is linked to an app so every time there’s a sale we receive an alert, so we know exactly how many bouquets are needed to replenish the machines,” she explained.

“There’s no wastage, and I can book the bouquets and get them delivered there knowing exact numbers required. In high footfall locations, such as stations, airports, sports centres or stadiums, people want all sorts of items 24-7.”

Berger, who is finance and marketing director of the business, has a history in retail. She founded Bisque Radiators, a designer radiator company, which she sold in 2006, before running a gardening business with her husband, Mark Berger. Mark is also a director in Rockflower, and is the organisation’s chief technology officer.

The two other co-founders are feature film designers, Andrew McAlpine and Gemma Jackson, who help create the unique look, feel and experience associated with the machines.

When not in operation, the unit screens play corporate videos to draw people’s attention, and they are designed in a way to encourage people to share their experiences of using the technology on social media.

Rockflower is considering linking its Reading machine to eCommerce, so customers can order via the web and reserve their flowers for collection at the station. Berger said this capability, which would involve accessing the paid-for item with a QR code, is part of what would be offered to third parties using the technology.

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