7 Key Differences Between Automated Retail Machines & Vending Machines

3 Minutes Read

Vending machines are a constant presence in our everyday life. They can be in almost every corner but their functions are dated and limited. On the other hand, customers are demanding smart and safe ways to access their favorite retail products especially after the pandemic. To meet this trend, the automated retail industry has emerged in the recent years making this next-gen technology a standard offering in the most non-traditional retail locations.

Here are 5 profound distinctions between the standard vending machine and the automated retail machine.  

  1. Technology

Vending Machines (VM): Vending machines utilize old,  limited technology which has stayed unchanged since the first machine was installed. 

Automated Retail Machines (ARM): Automatic retail machines utilize state of the art technology with robotics and touch screen interfaces with all convenient payment methods

The “brain” 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 reluctant to spend more than 10 dollars in a vending machine.   

ARM: Spending in an automated retail machine will range from $20 to $200+ per transaction, a substantial difference! Automated retail machines are immediately more reliable to dispense the product without fail.

These automated units are more than a POP machine, they are truly a store by 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 hard-drop as the product lands, a fall that can damage, if not destroy the product 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.

These two features of the automated retail machine add to the positive user experience. 


  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: Automated retail units are larger in size and showcase the products much like a store with high-end lighting and design. 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.

This creates a unique user experience which is fun and modern.


  1. Reliability

    VM: When money is inserted into a self-service vending machine, there’s always risk of a customer losing money due to a malfunction in the machine. Most time people struggle to get their product after payment.

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

  2. Sales vs. Sales and Marketing

VM: Vending machines have the clear objective of selling items and this works for many types of lower cost products.

ARM: Automated retail allows brands to really showcase and sell 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.

  1. CRM and Customer Loyalty

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

ARM: Automated retail often has a very different purpose. Yes, an automatic retail machine can display high-value products such as Apple computers, Bose speakers, or even Revlon makeup, but the ARM unit gives the brand an opportunity to really educate and connect with  customers.

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, vending machine offers / coupons 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!