A vending machine is quite an interesting thing, other than existing since the early 20th century and now being as universal as sliced bread, the future direction for these vendors is just as fascinating as the stuff they dispense. So, I’ve decided to share with you my choice of the top 10 vending machines, and discuss how the marriages of new technologies and ‘convenience’ are revolutionising our fast-moving tech-savvy consumer culture.
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10. The Affluent one
Given the rising number of affluent visitors to London, St Martins Lane Hotel in Covent Garden found a need to unify luxurious novelty souvenirs with the convenience of vending. The Semi-Automatic by The Design Museum offers extravagant men’s watches, wallets and lamps amongst other things, in what seems to be a lavish attempt to appeal to London’s wealthy visitors and build brand prestige.
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9. The Boris-Bike one
Dutch design agency Springtime has come with up an alternative approach to the widely used city bike rental schemes. Bikedispenser is self-styled as ‘the world’s most compact fully automated bicycle storage and rental system’ and meets a need to store a substantial number of bikes in a compact and safe environment - 50-100 bikes per dispenser.
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8. The Transparent one
The WaterWerkz PouchLink is a vending machine that dispenses drinks made and packaged in real time before the consumer. The concept got me thinking about how to expand on this theme of consumer-centricity; why not go one further and let the consumer choose combinations of flavours and packaging? Giving the consumer more choice in what they’re purchasing solidifies the notion of trust, quality and by association; transparency in what they’re purchasing leading to a closer relationship between the brand and consumer.
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7. The Promotional one
The connection between vending and promotion is quite apparent, but does it work effectively? Sony has come up with an innovative way to communicate its promotions – as a form of direct advertising – for its waterproof Walkman headset. Here’s the clincher; they’re for swimmers, they’re packaged in water and specifically positioned in vending machines located at gyms with swimming pools. Other than this genius marketing message (demonstrating the headphones really are waterproof), the potential for vending machines to become tools for product positioning is huge.
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6. The Inclusive one
One of the most common practical problems of vending machines is that for the most part; they don’t work effectively. The stigmatism of unreliability is common but more so, it is usually from fault of the vendor than the consumer, through wrongly navigating the machines user interface. This of course puts fault back on the machine for being confusing to use; in fact you rarely see any commonality between controls on varying machines. However, this variant from USI, called the iCart has been developed using a human-centric approach, whereby considerations to usability and practicality have taken precedence over design traditions and CMF (Colours, Materials, Finishes). As a result its interface is simple, user friendly and works effortlessly.
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5. The Counter-Culture one
The consumer perspective of vending machines is of unhealthy fast convenience foods that have long shelf lives. Farmers Fridge sits beside many of these junky siblings in the Gravey Food Court in downtown Chicago, but offers something completely different to what is expected of a vending machine; fresh, organic food. This green alternative offers a wide range of healthy snacks from fresh salads to my personal health favourite – kale. I love that they’re doing this, it’s a creative and inventive way to help stem the rise of obesity and our obsession with junk food, through a means that is both familiar to its targeted demographic and to its ‘consumer antithesis’.
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4. The Liberal one(s)
Helping to address a controversial societal problem, the marijuana vending machine was recently unveiled by authorities in Colorado. They hope it will help distribute the newly legalised drug to ‘age’ and ‘legally’-specific purchasers. Regardless of your views on cannabis laws, this could be a way to do it safely and legally.
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3. The Sustainable one
The Reverse Vending Corporation is a company producing vendors that flip the ideals of vending on its head; instead of purchasing items from the machine - you sell them back. The most widely used variants are for bottles, where you can place a bottle into the machine and receive a fee for doing so; pretty handy if you need some change for that trolley (they’re usually located in supermarkets). The potential here is quite momentous; mixing the convenience and prolific nature of vending machines with recycling.
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2. The Smart one
The excitement and buzz around the impending emergence of ‘the internet of things’ got me thinking about how this might look in vending. Well it’s already been developed by SAP, and it looks quite cool! Smart vending machines offer tailored consumer service, interspersing aspects of social media and experiential advertising with intelligent product positioning and new technologies. This means all you need to do is ‘sign in’ to a machine using your phone and it will instantly recognise you; you’re friends and everything associated with your preferences and recent purchases. Consequently, users receive a more personalised experience whilst the vendor gets a greater understanding of its customers and is able to react to changes in the market.
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1. The Revolutionary one
So here it is; the big reveal. So we’ve looked at 9 directions of vending machines and how they’re striving to find and accommodate consumers in different ways. But I’ve found a certain type of machine that, despite being relatively new and underdeveloped; promises to truly transform the way we vend for everyone. For years now, 3D printing has gained press for being a revolutionising technology, and it’s expanded its reach into vending. This machine by Oreo showcased at SXSW Festival ‘prints’ your own personalised cookie that is created through association with trending topics on Twitter. The possibilities this could have are truly mind boggling, and offers yet another direction for this promising technology. #EattheTweet