Thinking Outside The Box: 5 Fresh Uses For Automated Retail Vending

4 Minutes Read

People’s needs and desires differ from place to place around the world. But the satisfaction of something dispensing into the collection area of a vending machine is universal.

Vending machines are gaining attention for the central piece they can play in a buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) retail strategy. But even those who are rolling out a fairly conventional approach might benefit from a bit of lateral thinking.  Here, then, are some recent and ongoing experiments involving vending machines from around the world, to help you think outside the box. 

Shiny Things

Vending machines are excellent for satisfying spontaneous needs. Sometimes what you need is caffeine or batteries. Sometimes it’s a prop for popping a question. 

The high-end Bankside Hotel in London installed lobby vending machines equipped with touchscreens to dispense luxe goodies like Champagne and spirits, but it was the engagement ring that stole all the international attention when it went for sale in 2019. 

As The New York Times described it, the ring, made by Fitzgerald Jewelry of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, “features a yellow rose-cut diamond surrounded by gray-colored diamonds set in 14-karat gold band with matte finish. It costs $800 before tax.” And in case you’re nearby and find yourself swept up by romance, the ring lives in slot B3.

Other fine items that vending can dispense seamlessly are cufflinks (actual pic below), other jewelry items such as earrings, bracelets, necklaces, luxury cosmetics and perfumes.




Art that will fit into your hand

Fancy a masterpiece for the price of a drink? Vending machines that dispense snack-sized artworks are an idea that has gained steam and flourished into a full-scale trend. They’re now common enough that a Pinterest user was able to gather at least 100 examples of Art Vending Machines on a board

In other words, you might not be far from a vending machine wherever you are. Say, the Canada-U.S. border: In Windsor, Ontario, The Tiny Art Vending Machine dispenses local artworks for the low price of CAD 4 a piece (incidentally, artists refer to their works as “multiples” when many examples of the same piece are created).

For when you’re under the weather

There are many places around the world where it rains a lot: England. British Columbia. Basically everywhere that touches the Indian Ocean. But only one rainy place has made the umbrella vending machine a common sight, as far as we know, and that’s Japan.

Perhaps that’s because Japan is a country is obsessed with vending machines, where everything from food to clothing can be found in a vending machine, if you look hard enough.

When it comes to umbrella vending machines, the proposition is pretty straightforward: If you’re caught in an unexpected drizzle, you can buy a basic umbrella to sort you out. At this machine, they’re priced starting at ¥590 — a little over US$4. 

Talking about "everything", Signifi vending machines can dispense toys, clothing, souvenirs and much more without special packaging (Actual pic below).



A response to the opioid crisis

Earlier in 2022, Wayne State University's Center for Behavioral Health and Justice placed 15 vending machines across Michigan, one of many U.S. states facing a rash of opioid-related overdoses. Their contents: Medication that could save someone’s life in a minute.

As The Detroit Free Press put it, “The newest vending machines in Michigan aren't dispensing pop or chips, they're doling out free boxes of Narcan™, the medication that reverses opioid overdoses.” Narcan™ is also known by its generic name, naloxone, and it can reverse an overdose in progress.

The machines were placed inside jails, universities and centres where people dealing with addiction spend time and access programs. The “price” for the medication, of course, was free.

Similarly, businesses can dispense any medications or other go-to OTC, emergency and personal hygiene products anytime, anywhere. (Actual pic below) 



Smart Vending are a great option for retailers looking to improve customer experience and drive sales.

When the content marketing firm Group SJR installed a vending machine at its New York head office in 2019, it wasn’t to dispense snacks or IT assets. The product was social media moments. And the currency - Time.

SJR’s 'Time Machine dispenses sealed foil packages containing social media “moments.” Much like a Chance card in a game of Monopoly, the contents of each one is a mystery before you open it. As Graphic Design USA explains: “Select a silver mylar bag labeled “Facebook” and out pops a 4’ x 4’ acrylic mirror with engraved text that reads: “Your great aunt tagged you in a profile picture from 3 years ago.” Or pick a bag titled “Instagram” and receive a card with the words: “Photo of a couple walking hand in hand down the hallway of a political residence.”

But before you “earn” the moment, you have to spend a predetermined number of seconds waiting for it: The countdown is projected on the floor, and the machine watches through the glass to make sure you’re looking down as the numbers reach zero. (Look away and the countdown pauses.)

The technology is clever. But the really deep thought is supposed to happen outside the box and inside the users’ heads, as they’re nudged into questioning how much time they spend on social media. How much time is the fleeting satisfaction of a social media interaction truly worth?

More food for thought

What’s the moral of these stories?

There can be much more to automated retail vending, if you’re thinking creatively. What automation allows you to do is anticipate your customers’ needs as people, before you ever meet them. In a retail context, automated vending involving a smart locker can facilitate a grab-n-go shopping experience, of course, and it can also allow customers to pre-order items to pick up at a convenient time and location. That’s the increasingly popular “Buy Online, Pickup In Store” (BOPIS) trend in retail.

And thanks to features like temperature control, flexible compartment sizes and a highly customizable appearance, Signifi’s BOPIS solutions truly set the stage for that moment when you’ll satisfy and delight the customer — when they eventually do set foot through your door.

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