Can the UK’s first 'automated shop' vending machine keep customers satisfied?

Chris Green visits the unexpected item in Clifton’s car park – a giant vending machine

On a sunny spring morning in the quiet village of Clifton in Derbyshire, a steady stream of people are making their way towards the Cock Inn. They are not early rising drinkers; the pub is not yet open. Instead they head around to the car park at the back.

Here sits the UK’s first “automated shop” – a bus shelter-sized giant vending machine selling everything from fresh milk and eggs to umbrellas and cat food.

Designed to look like a quaint village shop, yet with the advantage of more reliable opening hours, it is intended to lead a quiet, mechanised revolution in rural areas across Britain, filling the gap left by the widespread closure of traditional stores.

The Clifton SpeedyShop, as it is formally known, has been gratefully welcomed by residents, who haven’t had a village shop for more than a decade.

“They pretty much emptied it on Monday evening. It was great,” says Lorraine Garside, the landlady of the Cock, who admits that she has already fed her hungry customers using a loaf of bread bought from the machine.

“We haven’t had a village shop for about 13, 14 years and there are no bus services through the village any more, so if you want a pint of milk you have to walk into town if you don’t drive. It’s very reasonably priced – I think it’s marvellous.”

The machine is the brainchild of Peter Fox, a 50-year-old electrical engineer who used to live in a small village and became frustrated at coming home late from work to find nothing in the fridge. Having spent more than two years designing the prototype, he now hopes that similar machines can be rolled out nationally, but says he doesn’t have the resources to expand as quickly as he would like and is now actively seeking a business partner.

“I own all the intellectual property, but I don’t have a factory with 500 people and I can’t manufacture hundreds of these a week,” he says. “I certainly intend to roll it out myself anyway, and I’ve already got other machines in my factory which are almost complete … but obviously I can’t instantly start making hundreds of machines and sending them all over the UK. To do that I’ve either got to grow organically, which will take time, or find somebody who wants to jump in with me.”

Accepting cash or credit cards, the machine emails Mr Fox whenever it dispenses an item, so he can keep track of stock levels. Although he is reluctant to reveal just how good business has been so far, on the grounds that it is “early days”, he says there has been a “steady stream” of villagers buying everything from washing powder to toothpaste and bags of sugar.

Yesterday The Independent contributed to the machine’s coffers by buying that key household staple, a can of eight hot dogs (89p). Other items on offer included six eggs (£1.75), bacon (£2.69), a pair of sticky toffee puddings (£1.99) and a book of first class stamps (£3.60).

Although the machine is attracting more publicity than Clifton has received in years, most customers yesterday seemed happier to browse rather than buy. Barbara Goodwin, out for a walk with her husband and their two dogs, was among the window shoppers. “I’m not quite sure,” she says. “There is a general store a couple of miles away. But having said that, late at night, you don’t have to go far, and it’s very convenient.”

The machine carries another benefit for Mrs Garside: relieving the pressure on her pub to act as an informal grocer for naive tourists who rent self-catered cottages, only to be left baffled at the village’s lack of a Tesco Express. “You do get some southerners … who come up and think that every quaint village has a shop, and of course it doesn’t any more,” she says. “So now we have.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Head of IT Project Management / Programme Manager - London

£65000 - £68000 per annum + Bonus and 26 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence