Glen Ryniewski will present an overview of the self service offerings in the works at Chicago airports during a keynote at the Self-Service Innovation Summit, Dec. 14-16 in Hollywood, Florida.
Travelers making connections are usually in a hurry. Which is why Chicago’s O’Hare Airport — one of the busiest airports in the country — is doing its part to make it as easy as possible for travelers to get last minute necessities, such as food, beverages, batteries and OTC medications at the touch of a button.
O’Hare, where roughly half the travelers at any given time are making flight connections, is undergoing a facelift of sorts.
By 2023, if all goes according to plan, all concessions will offer a self-serve touchscreen, according to Glen Ryniewski, assistant commissioner of concessions for the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Attendees at the Self-Service Innovation Summit, Dec. 14-16 in Hollywood, Florida, will get a preview of the changes planned for O’Hare when Ryniewski gives his opening keynote, “How One Airport is Flying High with Self-Service Solutions,” at 5:10 p.m. on Dec. 14.
“We still have the super majority of (concessions) units being staffed, although innovation through self-service concepts has made a big leap due to the residual effect from the COVID environment,” Ryniewski told this website in a phone interview. “The convenience factor is really the added value that vending and innovative self service offers.
“You can have gourmet, high end, fresh fruit all packaged and ready to go where people can grab it, pay for it in the self-checkout and then get to their gate.”
Much of the current emphasis on self service was instigated by COVID for O’Hare.
“Because of COVID, it moved it (self service) to the front of the line,” Ryniewski said.
The department put out an RFP in the summer of 2020 for vending and automated stores, including automated ordering and gate delivery. As a result, the airport has already introduced 115 vending machines, with more planned in 2023.
“All of those things are starting to crystalize right now,” he said.
The journey begins
For O’Hare, the journey began in the early 2000s.
“Vending was a sleepy little category that was trying to get into airports,” Ryniewski said. “It was sort of an afterthought.”
The first machines that did well in the early 2000s at O’Hare were the Best Buy electronics machines made by Zoom Systems.
“Zoom was the pioneer of the emerging vending field,” Ryniewski said.
When McDonald’s took a pioneering role with self-service kiosks in 2016 with its “Experience of the Future” initiative, the department took note.
In 2020, O’Hare introduced eight McDonald’s restaurants offering self-serve kiosks.
“We saw an incremental rise in sales of about 20%,” Ryniewski said.
Another machine that did especially well around this time was Farmer’s Fridge, which is especially popular with flight crews.
“The pilots and airline attendants like that because you get good fresh product and you can eat half and have the other half while you’re flying,” Ryniewski said.
Self service expands
Since the start of COVID, the authority released RFPs calling for more self service.
There are now about 15 vending zones, each with three to five machines offering health snacks, cold beverages and convenience products including OTC health care items.
Self-service offerings currently include:
- One Hudson Just Walk Out store.
- Five Best Vending Midwest machines: two beverage; two snack; one Windy City Mart (healthy product machines).
- 12 Body Charger Systems (foot massage machines).
- 19 Compass/Canteen machines: Four Farmer’s Fridge; four healthy beverages; 11 healthy snacks.
- Six Nuts on Clark vending machines: four popcorn; two nuts/chocolates.
- 7 Oops Diapers 2Go machines.
- 22 PepsiCo machines; 14 Pepsi; four non-carbonated beverages; 4 Starbucks.
- 25 Prepango machines: 10 Chicago Essentials; two Kylie Cosmetics; one Lego; six Premium Sound; one Shopall Essentials; five Sprinkles Cupcakes.
- 18 TFG Swyft machines (electronics, cosmetics, OTC medicine): five Benefit Cosmetics; eight CVS; five iStore.
More to come
Next year, there will be an additional larger Hudson Just Walk Out store as well as Jabbrrbox pods — enclosed work spaces where people can seclude themselves and have Internet access.
The airport is currently in the process of redesigning the terminals and will ask all concessions to offer order and pay touchscreens in addition to traditional cashiers.
“We promote that as an amenity or an add-on to an offering,” Ryniewski said.
The airport authority also plans to add more vending at the Multi-Modal Facility which consolidates the activities of airport car rentals, regional bus traffic, hotel and parking shuttles.
There will also be EV charging stations at the multi-modal facility.
The biggest challenge has been getting the technology to market fast enough, Ryniewski said.
The department is getting better at the RFP process, he said, but it is still a long process as a lot of approvals are needed.
It took more than a month to install the 300-square-foot Hudson store at O’Hare.
“Every camera has got to be calibrated,” he said. “There is a strong investment into the technology side and the quick service side.”
Meeting consumer needs
Ryniewski nevertheless thinks the present is an exciting time for airport self service.
The younger generation is very receptive to innovation and not talking to anyone when they make purchases. Two “Just Walk Out” stores can be close together and not cannibalize each other.
“Throughout North America airport concession programs prior to 2000 was a cottage community industry with offerings of popcorn, hot dogs, payphones and newspapers, but has now grown into a sophisticated, multi-billion-dollar industry with celebrity chefs, spas, private lounges and luxury brands,” he said. “Airports are now offering amenities that are engaging to captive passengers and showcasing a sense of place with local choices that are distinct to the airport’s region or city affiliation.
“Wholly unattended units are emerging, and will be coming to market quicker as business models pivot to mitigate the high cost of labor that is needed in operating a traditional retail unit.
“I think people have been reprogrammed and they’re thinking about how they spend their time. They want more convenience and they’re willing to pay for convenience.”
To register for the Summit, click here.
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