Sony Vending Machine

Sony is unveiling an automated kiosk today that dispenses digital cameras, DVDs and MP3 players the same way a vending machine rolls out a can of soda — quickly and at all hours of the day.

 In a partnership with San Francisco’s Zoom Systems, Sony has set up an automated kiosk for a test run at Santa Rosa Plaza that will carry about 50 Sony products, from a pack of batteries for about $5 to a PlayStation Portable for $249.

The electronics-maker hopes the Sony-branded kiosks will make it easier for consumers to pick up its products.

In addition to Santa Rosa, it has set up similar kiosks at the Mall of Georgia in Atlanta and the Flatirons Mall in Boulder, Colo. , with plans for seven more in airports, malls and grocery stores this summer.

“The timing is absolutely right,” said Joe Stinziano, senior vice president of Sony Electronics. “Consumers more than ever before are starting to get comfortable with the self-shopping idea. … When you come across a machine like this, you can learn more about the products you want. Within three clicks and two minutes and a swipe of your credit card, you’re in and out and done. You don’t have to worry about waiting for a sales clerk or if it’s in stock.”

After a customer selects a Sony product on a touch screen and pays for it with a credit card, a robotic arm in the kiosk pick up the product and delivers it. Sensors ensure the item reaches the shopper before the credit card is charged. The machine also includes security features to prevent would-be thieves from breaking into it.

There are drawbacks. If people change their mind about a purchase, they have to follow the instructions on the receipt and mail back the product. They cannot take them to Sony stores or other retail outlets.

Zoom, using robotic technology developed in Japan, makes and manages the automated kiosks. Zoom began installing kiosks a year ago and now has more than 100 in hotels, malls and airports across the country. Bay Area locations include Macy’s in Union Square and San Francisco International Airport.

The kiosks feature a wide range of products, including iPods and iPod accessories, Kiss My Face soap, and an acne skin care line endorsed by Jessica Simpson, Proactiv Solution. Some kiosks already sell Sony products, such as Sony’s noise-cancellation headphones.

In a separate deal earlier this month, Zoom announced it will install 180 kiosks at Macy’s department stores throughout the United States.

However, Zoom says, its partnership with Sony is the first of its kind for consumer electronics.

Under the partnership, the kiosks will be designed in Sony’s signature style and carry the Sony brand. A 20-inch LCD display will run Sony promotions, such as trailers for Sony movies like “The Da Vinci Code.” If the kiosks are successful, Sony will install them in more places, with Zoom getting a cut of the proceeds.

Stinziano declined to discuss the financial details of the partnership, except to say that the kiosks are expected to supplement the company’s overall retail sales, not replace them.

Zoom kiosks generate about $1,000 to $15,000 in revenue per square foot a year, compared with about $300 to $500 per square foot for most traditional retail stores, said Zoom chief executive Gower Smith.

He said the kiosks selling consumer electronic products tend to generate the most sales, from $6,000 to $15,000 per square foot annually.