The Vend Trend: vending machines as point-of-purchase marketing tools

Nov 25, 2016

After this month’s launch of Snap Inc’s Spectacles Snapbot vending machines, GDR is interested in how brands are using the vending machine as a creative point-of-purchase marketing possibility. Innovation Researcher Sophia Platts-Palmer provides a roundup of the most innovative vending machines from recent years.


Historically, vending machines have not been suited to holding perishable products, but in June 2016 the Meat-o-Mat changed all that. The brainchild of Joshua Applestone, founder of Applestone Meats Company, the machine is an automated butcher, dispensing pre-packaged cuts of meat to customers. Applestone’s goal is to remove the potentially intimidating factor of having to speak to a butcher, which he noted was a key anxiety amongst his customers – with research suggesting the knowledge differential was an obstacle to people approaching the butcher.

“When customers walk into a supermarket and see the butcher behind the window cutting things they still reach down and grab a steak that’s wrapped and pre-packaged,” Applestone said. “They don’t want the expert, they don’t even want to talk to them, they just want to see an expert and know that they’re there.” Customers, in his view, desire the reassurance the presence of an expert provides, while being wary of actually interacting with them.

Consumer convenience is one thing, but the bottom line has also benefitted. The Meat-o-Mat has freed up expenses for Applestone, and by “doing away with huge labor costs, [they] can keep quality high, but prices low.”

Vending machines make it possible for brands to sell their products at more locations at a lower price, given the vastly reduced overheads, and are also excellent points of sale, highlighting a particular product category that might otherwise become lost in the aisles.

London-based vending machine restaurant Keuken sells freshly prepared salads and sandwiches to a busy urban workforce. The company believes that by doing away with traditional retail spaces, the money saved can be invested into better quality food and bigger portions. Farmer’s Fridge in Chicago offers a similar service – every morning chefs prepare healthy meals packaged in jars and stock up machines across the city. Jars retail at $7 each.

“Customers can find healthy offerings at a sit-down restaurant or grocery store, but people don’t always have that kind of time,” said Farmers Fridge founder Luke Saunders. “I want to make it fast and easy for someone to choose a delicious, nutritious meal on the go. We’re taking the vending machine concept and revolutionising it.”

Another example: Eatsa is a fully automated, fast-casual quinoa restaurant in San Francisco’s financial district that has developed othe vending machine format to offer a unique retail service. Customers browse a digital menu and order their meal from an iPad (which then saves their preference to make their next visit even quicker). A ‘hidden’ kitchen prepares it and then delivers it via a hatch displaying their name. They’ve been criticised for offering an experience lacking in human interaction but co-founder Tim Young has defended the concept, saying the goal is efficiency above all else.

“By developing new technology to automate every aspect of the food experience, we are able to deliver a product with the best qualities of premium fast-casual at a price point that is accessible to everyone,” Young said.

In 2015 the French digital publisher Short Édition installed a range of vending machines that dispense ‘fast fiction’ across the city of Grenoble. The machine was free to use and held a library of 600 short stories from Short Éditions catalogue. Users could select the amount of time they had available for reading – one, three or five minutes- and the machine printed out a story in an easily digestible receipt format. Short Édition’s aim was to target commuters who would usually spend their journey staring at a smartphone screen. In 2013, the Meganews kiosk in Sweden offered a similar service for magazines.

Snap Inc’s recent Snapbot vending machine has also followed the vend-trend, appearing in, California, Oklahoma and Manhattan. It is currently the only official means of purchasing the app’s first hardware incarnation, the ‘lifelogging’ (a term used to explain the social media phenomenon of recording ones life) spectacles which increases hype and drives users. Snapchat Spectacles are dispensed at a cost of $130 and purchases are restricted to one pair per person.

Luxury brands have also introduced vending machines into their marketing strategy to engage new customers at a lower price point. Moët and Chandon first installed a champagne bottle-filled vending machine in Selfridges in 2013 with bottles priced at £18 each and delivered by a golden robot arm. More recently, Moët and Chandon have been trending on social media after situating a free champagne vending machine in a central London branch of All Bar One.

Vending machines have proved a low-cost, high-impact point-of-purchase tool for brands across all categories. As the tech has developed, old-style vending machines are being replaced with sophisticated interfaces that brands can easily implement to further enhance the theatre of retail, add efficiency and drive engagement.

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