This Contactless Retail Solution Puts Its Best Foot(wear) Forward

Everyone’s been there: running through the airport, late for a flight, and wishing our footwear choice had been a smart pair of flats and not heels, or heavy boots.

But tech-savvy serial entrepreneur Dawn Dickson, a rising star in retail and woman of color in the male-dominated technology space, sought to change that with the introduction of a completely cashless PopShop Kiosk that offers stylish, compact, durable, lightweight and machine-washable rollable flats, so women can get relief when — and where — they need it most.

First came Flat Out of Heels, a company that sells rollable flats in an array of patterns, colors and textures (that can conveniently be tossed into an accompanying to-go case), which Dickson founded after enduring a painfully long night in high heels while out in South Beach, Miami, wishing she could change her shoes. Then came PopCom, an automated retail company Dickson also founded, that produces its PopShop Kiosk “contactless” vending machines for retailers looking to creatively package and sell their products.

A style from Flat Out of Heels. Slav G

Dickson’s kiosk concept quickly became a hit since its launch in 2017, and PopShop’s sleek, future-proofed vending machines have been installed throughout airports and hotels such as at Atlanta Airport, Bayside Marketplace in Miami or the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, in addition to recently selling $100,000 worth of product to DSW Stores.

And now, PopCom said it hopes for its latest patented vending machine model to become the “iPhone of vending machines,” due to a slew of wholly unique new features, such as facial recognition, exterior cameras to collect data, and advertising screens, among other eccentricities. And while it’s cashless now, there are talks for the machines to accept digital currencies in the near future, the brand said.

The souped-up PopShop Kiosk model filled with Flat Out of Heels products will begin offering shoppers relief in November.

Here, Dickson talks to WWD about inspirations, PopCom’s latest technologies, and discusses the narratives behind her innovations.

WWD: What was the genesis of Flat Out of Heels, and what are some of the unique features of the product itself? And what about the consumer experience of using the machines?

Dawn Dickson: I started Flat Out of Heels in 2011 after a long night in high heels on South Beach in Miami. I remember how bad my feet hurt and I did not want to walk barefoot. On countless occasions I had witnessed women shifting in discomfort, sitting down in pain, and resorting to walking barefoot because the pain from her designer shoes had become unbearable. The smart ones would carry flip-flops or sneakers to change, but it was not a “good look.” I thought it would be great if we could purchase a pair of shoes to carry in our bags for “feet rescue emergencies” — they had to be compact, lightweight, durable and easy to clean…and most importantly, they needed to be cute.

PopCom’s newest model of its PopShop contactless kiosk. Image courtesy of Flat Out of Heels. 

I didn’t see a product on the market in 2011 that met my criteria, so I decided to create my own brand, Flat Out of Heels. I sold them online, in boutiques, and in 2013 I launched our first vending machines in locations like nightclubs, airports and conference venues so women can purchase them when they need it the most — when the pain hits. Now Flat Out has partnered with PopCom and we are selling the shoes in the PopShop. Our first new machine will be live in November.

WWD: What are some of the new vending machine features exclusive to PopCom? 

D.D.: It has a range of innovative features that are not available on traditional vending machines. This feature set includes exterior cameras to anonymously collect customer data including age, gender, emotion and engagement. The kiosk features a large display monitor to allow retailers to monetize their kiosks by selling advertisements and promoting products. The machines are cashless, accepting all major credit cards (chip, swipe and tap).

PopCom has future plans to integrate digital currency acceptance and “pay with face” options. With a goal to be completely “contact-less” and protect customers from COVID-19 each sale can be conducted with a pen, stylus or even gloves. The machines can accommodate various product sizes and packaging types and come equipped with wheels to allow for easy transportation.

Image courtesy of Flat out of Heels. 

WWD: How will the PopShop Kiosk become the iPhone of vending machines?

D.D.: I have always been inspired by Apple because of their attention to design and innovation. Apple’s Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone on Jan. 9, 2007, calling it a “revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone.” When I got the idea to invent a new type of vending machine in 2016, I knew that I was ahead of the time. While venture capitalist investors focused on finding the next big app or e-commerce platform, I was going against the trend and working on hardware. I am inspired by companies like Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, Square that completely shifted their industries by creating technology for hardware to makes our lives easier.

PopCom has developed software to revolutionize automated retail. Our software turns basic vending machines into digital pop-up shops with the ability to create engaging user experiences, generate leads, deliver targeted advertising and content, collect user data, age-gate for regulated products, close last-mile delivery and more. Our software can be integrated into many types of machines using our API, not just the PopShop.

We were awarded a patent on the PopShop design in September 2020, and it is truly game-changing — now, PopShop can do for retail what the iPhone did for mobile phones.

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