We tried a vending machine that gives away free stuff – and it is coming to malls all around Gauteng soon

Business Insider SA
Trail Run's ABIE
  • A South African startup will start setting up vending machines in malls around Gauteng soon.
  • But you won't be paying for the stuff inside using money – just information.
  • Trial Run Media says companies are desperate to get their products in consumers hands, and its machines offer a 'dirt cheap' way of doing that.
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Getting people to try new products is hard – especially when times are tough and money is tight. Nobody wants to pay for a new brand of, say, washing powder, without trying it first.

So companies try to give away samples for free, but that is hard and expensive. Typically it means negotiating space in a store, training a brand ambassador, then accosting people who just want to get their shopping done. Even if it works, the company that gives away the free stuff has no further way to communicate and drive home the sale.

And yet, says South African startup Trial Run, people love getting free stuff as much as companies love getting them to sample stuff. It's just the delivery mechanism that doesn't work.

Which is where machines come in.

During the course of this spring, more than four dozen malls across Gauteng will see new vending machines arrive in various public spots. They will look – and largely function – just like any vending machines that sells chocolates or cool drinks, with one major difference: everything in them will be free.

As long as you are willing to part with some private information.

Trial run has named its machines ABIE, short for Automated Business Intelligence Engines, and the sales pitch to consumer companies is a "dirt cheap" form of marketing: R1,000 will buy then 540 "leads" – consumers they can communicate with, and hopefully turn into customers.

For those consumers, the deal comes with free stuff.

Here is how it works.

The machines will be placed in malls, and stocked by Trial Run with samples from its customers: consumer companies with stuff they want people to try.

Trial Run machine

Each machine is due to have a wide range of products available, the better to entice a wide range of potential consumers.

Vending machine

If you spot something you like, you have to go to a website to claim it.


Now it is time to part with some personal information, the better to market at you after you get your goodies.

Trail Run website

This is the tricky part of the transaction, for both sides. People are quite willing to part with, at a minimum, a cellphone number in return for free stuff, Trial Run says. Consumer-focussed companies keen to build relationships, on the other hand, are good at not exploiting private information, and at honouring requests to unsubscribe from marketing material.

Handing over your details gets you an SMS with a magic number...


... which goes into the machine.

Voucher number

And out comes your stuff.


After that, Trial Run says, its customer, which just gave you free stuff, may contact you a couple more times with follow-up marketing. Because the idea is to turn you into a fan of the product, that company is unlikely to annoy you, Trial Run says. It is more likely to offer you a discount or some other incentive – and will go away if you opt out.

Samples will be limited to one per phone number, because companies only want to hit consumers up once. But there are may ways to use the system, including offering multiple free items in return for more information, and more chances to market to you.

In the first phase free-stuff vending machines are due to come to these Gauteng malls:

14th Ave District Shopping Centre

Alberton City

Alice Lane

Atterbury Value Mart

Benmore Centre


Boulders shopping

Brooklyn Mall

Bryanston Shopping Centre

Centurion Lifestyle Centre

Cradlestone Mall

Cresta Shopping Centre 

Dobsonville Mall

East Rand Mall

Eastgate mall 

Festival Mall

Fourways Crossing 

Fourways Mall Shopping Centre

Golden Walk

Key West Shopping Centre


Kyalami Corner

Lakeside Mall

Mall of Africa

Maponya Mall

Mark Park

Meadowdale Mall

Menlyn Shopping centre

Northgate Mall

Palm Springs

Park Meadows

Randburg Square

River Square

Rosebank Mall

Sammy Marks Square

Sandton City 

Springs Mall

Stoneridge Centre

Vaal Mall

Village Square

Waterfall Mall

Westgate mall

Woodmead Retail Park

Woodlands Mall

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