Vending machines have undergone a number of facelifts over the years, mostly to keep up with advancements in the technology, but it’s not just the aesthetics that have changed, it’s also the products that are available for sale that have changed with the times. So dramatic has been the shift, you may even be able to make an argument that one particular vending machine signaled the death knell for one particular retail genre, but we will get to that later.
No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to go anywhere without running into some sort of vending machine. They are in your cafeteria at work, lurking round every corner of the mall, waiting to dispense your daily newspaper, and even right by the front doors of major department stores; just when you think you’ve bought everything you need at the mega-mart, they remind you that you might just be a little thirsty after your shopping spree. What has become blatantly obvious though is that vending machines are not just for spitting out candy and soda anymore.
Most of the biggest changes in vending can be seen whilst taking a trip through the mall. The standard soda and candy machines are right where they have always been, nestled in the middle of the food court and outside the restrooms. But, slap bang in the middle of the main mall concourses are a whole slew of new machines bearing the names of very well-known companies, and loaded with items that will require more than a roll of quarters in order to purchase. Once the machines were designed to accept credit cards, as well as coins and paper money, forward thinking companies jumped at the idea of putting bigger ticket items on display in a vending machine format. Apple was one of the first to do so, selling iPods and accessories with great success. Sensing that this might be an idea that just might fly, Best Buy quickly followed suit, and Avon, the cosmetic giants, set up their Mark line of products, aimed at the younger crowd. There seems to be no end in sight as companies realize they can get their products out there without the expense of a traditional storefront, a savvy move in the current economy.
But let’s go back a bit and look at the vending machine that killed an entire retail industry. I clearly remember the first time I saw that large red vending machine sitting at the front of Wal-Mart displaying all the latest DVD releases, I assumed it was an advertising gimmick of some sort, but the Redbox machine actually offered all those titles for rent at a fraction of the cost of retail rental stores. The movie rental industry tried to react, but the damage was already done, and pretty soon big names like Blockbuster were shutting up shop. To their credit, Blockbuster has gone the vending route, but they lag way behind the industry leaders, Redbox.
In the coming years it will be interesting to see which other big names embrace the vending machine business model, and if doing so will signal the end of another retail stronghold.