Unlike old-fashioned vending machines, Zoom's Internet-enabled ones advertise their contents with animated commercials on 15-inch computer screens designed to draw the customer in, then follow through by allowing instant purchases with the swipe of a credit card.
WHSmith will use the machines to sell its 25 top titles, 24 hours a day, even when the store is closed. Participating Starwood Hotels, whose brands include Sheraton and Westin, will use the machines to offer flowers and gifts that travelers can order online to send to family back home or to business contacts on the road. AT&T Wireless will offer wireless prepaid telephone kits starting at $79.99, as well as prepaid telephone cards.
Experts believe this summer may bring some of the worst travel delays in history. But stranded travelers will at least be able to buy books to read, presents for their children, and phones to call home, at any time of the day or night.