What is the Difference Between an Automated Retail Machine and a Vending Machine?

5 Key Differences Between Automated Retail Machines and Vending Machines

Vending machines are a constant presence in our daily life. They can be found around almost every corner but their functions are dated and limited

Society moves at an increasingly bustling pace and the need to access personal and business necessities quickly and efficiently is rising at the same pace. To meet this trend, the automated retail kiosk industry has emerged, this next generation retail dispensing unit is becoming a standard at non-traditional locations everywhere, enabling brands to spread their footprint to new levels. Here are 5 profound distinctions between the standard vending machine and the automated retail machine.  

  1. Technology

Vending Machines (VM): Vending machines utilize old, very limited technology which has virtually stayed unchanged since the first machine was put into circulation. See more about this in our History of Vending Machines blog!

Automated Retail Machines (ARM): Automatic retail machines utilize state of the art technology with robotics and touch screen interfaces; debit, credit, gift cards and HID cards are all available payment methods. The “guts” of the technology is vastly different than its vending machine counterparts – vending units are mostly electronics whereas the automated retail machines house a server and use high end robotics.

  1. Revenues

VM: People are aware of the limitations of vending machines, and are usually very reluctant to spend more than 5 dollars in a vending machine. Newer vending units called “smart vending” vending machines are disguised as simple automated retail machines – they house touchscreens for user interface – to encourage larger purchases. However even with these smart units, the upper limit of spending is closer to 10 dollars. 

ARM: Spending in an automated retail machine will range from 20 to 200 dollars and up per transaction, a substantial difference! Automated retail machines are immediately more trustworthy, and savvy customers will be able to identify this right away. These automated units are more than a POP machine, they are truly a store in and of themselves. Robotic based retail units sit at a higher price point than a vending machine, but the difference in revenue between the two is substantially different, favoring the automated kiosk exponentially.

  1. Adaptability and Soft Dispense

VM: When a vending machine is loaded, operators have one option for product sizing. If the product is too tall or too wide, it won’t be going in the machine. Then there is the thud as the product lands, a fall that can damage, if not destroy the item the purchaser is trying to receive.

ARM: In an automatic retail machine, each lane is custom designed to fit the product you want to showcase. This allows you to display products of all shapes and sizes, from cuff links to computers! Additionally, the dispense is gentle, not a harsh fall, so the product is never dropped.

  1. Branding

VM: Vending units are generally poorly branded, if they’re branded at all. These units are not set up to sell higher priced items, nor visually designed to have the trustworthiness of a machine you’d trust with large sums of money. Most premium brands will never even consider putting their brands into a standard vending unit.

ARM: Automatic retail creates a better user experience. Automated retail units are larger in size and showcase the products much like in a retail store with high end lighting and design; the user experience is fun and modern. The sides of the unit can have large digital screens to promote your brand or sell as advertising space, and the user interface is generally a touchscreen rather than buttons with numbers on a vending machine.

  1. Reliability

VM: When money is inserted into a vending machine, there’s always risk of a customer losing money due to a malfunction in the machine. This is still common enough, we have all seen people struggling to get their product, nudging the machine to get a product to dispense.

ARM: Equipped with laser sensor technology and internal cameras, automatic retail machines ensure the product is dispensed. In the rare and unlikely event the product does not dispense, the card is not charged and there is communication with the client.

Sales vs. Sales and Marketing

Vending and smart vending have the clear objective of selling items, that’s it, and this works for many types of lower cost products. Automated retail allows brands to really showcase their products in non-traditional locations. The automated retail unit is unique in that there is a tremendous opportunity to showcase products beautifully, advertise through digital signage, connect with customers through interaction at the touchscreen and ultimately sell your product.

Different Goals and Purposes, Connecting Customers with Branding

Vending is a great solution for low margin on the go items such as chips, pop, snacks and similar items. People are familiar with these products, and don’t need to be sold or educated.

Automated retail often has a very different purpose. Yes, an automatic retail machine can display well known products such as Apple computers, Bose speakers, or even Revlon makeup, but the ARM unit gives the brand an opportunity to really educate and touch consumers. Signifi has units that allow customer to speak directly to a sales/support person at the brand – remotely, but face to face. Another way to connect is through social media where the clients can follow the brand on Facebook and Twitter and get discounts at the unit. Sampling and even rewarding repeat customers is possible at the automatic retail machine – for instance, the server will recognize that a loyal customer is at the unit and can dispense an extra gift item upon purchase. There is so much flexibility and opportunity with an automatic retail machine, as there is a full server and a full enterprise software and infrastructure behind the unit. Often, the automated store unit will be fully integrated with the retailer ERP or order management system. With this type of intelligence, the intelligent retail unit should be part of the retailers omni-channel strategy – it can become a net-new customer touchpoint in addition to the website, mobile site, or store front presence.  

When considering the facts, the automated retail machine should be compared to pop up stores or brick and mortar stores rather than vending machines. Simply put, the only thing automated kiosks and vending have in common is that they both dispense a product. The real question is, how do you want your brand to be displayed?

If you’re interested in learning more about unique and well-designed automated retail machines and how they can benefit you and your business, contact us at Signifi today!

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Topics: Automated Vending, custom vending machines