American Malls Beat Japan in Race for Touchscreen Vending Machines [Updated]

The new technology debuts with a splash in Tokyo—but this time, slick Japan tech followed innovative mall machines in Michigan.

touchscreen vending machines

Everything is more fun when enacted as a video game. Even a a new touchscreen vending machine that debuted yesterday in Tokyo that's "causing quite a stir," writes Sam Dunne of Core77, "as, one-by-one, bashful salarymen plucked up the courage to go and put the machine through its paces for the benefit of the gawking crowds." Why be bothered with that tiresome pressing of letters and numbers (Sprite … E7), when you can press a luminescent avatar of the soda you crave? And then, if Dunne’s photographs are to be believed, be thanked by a smiling anthropomorphized avatar of the very machine you just interacted with?

We are accustomed in this country to being scooped by the Japanese on faddish technology. But it seems, actually, that U.S. malls may have beaten the Japanese on this one. The Briarwood Mall of Ann Arbor, MI, has a Coca-Cola touchscreen vending machine of its own. In fact it seems likely that this is one of many U.S. malls owned by the Simon mall chain that may have similar machines. In fact, as much was promised by Samsung and Coke at the 2009 International CES trade show. Back then, it was reported that the machines were even equipped with Wi-Fi to order replenishments. Why the machines have had such a soft, and quiet, launch, is something of a mystery.

For our money, the real innovation needed in vending machinery was to put an end to all those stuck beverages and candy bars. But it appears Samsung’s most aggressive response to that problem has been to install motion sensors that warn any frustrated customers who might try to rattle the machine.

UPDATE: Simon Malls confirms that the Samsung machines are something of a commonplace in their malls; a Simon document shows that the plan was to have 150 of them by September of 2009. And the Chinese also were ahead of the Japanese on this one: some of the machines were featured at the Beijing Olympics.

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  • Ross Howard

    You're missing the point. This Japanese news story isn't about a touch-screen vending machine (which are of course old hat, they've been in Japan and elsewhere for years).

    The Japanese one has a camera that identifies gender and age with about 75% accuracy, and coupled with time of day and real time climate data, makes personalised recommendations for you. The touch screen was merely the technology to deliver a dynamic virtual version of the type of 'bottles in a row' merchandising approach used by Japanese vending machines.

  • Kimberly Otsuka

    This is very interesting. I have noticed a lot more talk about touch screen/ interactive technology. This is very cool. I would love to try one of these out. I think that showing photos of the drinks rather than pressing a button is better for business because it highlights all of the options. If you go up to a vending machine with the standard keypad you probably don't focus as much on the items being offered because you're trying to figure out the numbers. Providing just a picture makes buying a soda much easier I feel. If you placed both vending machines next to each other the touch screen would grab more attention due to the large images and bright colors. Anything to make the customer's life easier is beneficial. This machine is not only easy to use but interactive which can also help grab attention. Hopefully I’ll get to try one of these out soon.

    -CKR Interactive Intern

  • wyrmmage

    Interesting article. Your sentence that begins "Even a a new touchscreen vending machine" is a fragment, though ;)