Quirky vending machines could engage shoppers

Carolyn Schierhorn
Managing Editor
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Grocery retailers in the United States are looking for ways to differentiate themselves by creating unique shopping experiences. Unusual vending machines positioned in various locations inside and outside of the store can do just that, whether they dispense original store brand offerings or standout items created by a third party.

I’ve written about vending machines before, but two recent articles I read online reminded me that the grocery business isn’t fully realizing the potential of this technology.

The New York Times reports that Short Edition, a French publisher of short-form fiction (available in different languages), has installed more than 30 short story dispensers in the United States in the past year in restaurants, universities, government offices and transportation hubs. Approximately 150 of the vending machines are in use worldwide.

Each machine has three buttons at the top so the user can select among stories that would take one minute, three minutes or five minutes to read — perfect for someone waiting in a supermarket checkout line or having a cup of coffee in a grocerant café. The literature dispensed can be customized to specific ages and interests.

The stories are free for consumers. According to the article, each vending kiosk costs $9,200 plus an additional $190 per month for the software and content. Only the paper needs to be replaced regularly.

While these machines aren’t inexpensive, having one or two of the kiosks in a store could demonstrate a retailer’s commitment to literacy in the communities it serves, while also providing another reason for shoppers to return to the store.

The stories are accessed from a computer catalog of more than 100,000 original submissions evaluated by editors at Short Edition, which aims to create a platform for independent writers.

Another just-published article, this one on, describes “The 15 Weird Things You Can Buy at Vending Machines Around the World.” My favorites from this list include the following:

  • Diapers. Placed outside of a supermarket for access beyond normal business hours or inside near public restrooms, vending machines that dispense diapers and other baby necessities would certainly be appreciated by busy on-the-go parents with infants.
  • Hair extensions.  If you want to attract diverse Generation Z girls into your store, a vending machine with hair extensions for all hair types as well quirky accessories could be the answer.
  • Umbrellas. You could place a couple of umbrella vending machines in your parking lot some distance from the store entrance for the relief of shoppers on rainy days.
  • Raw meat and fresh produce. Extend the perimeter of your store to the exterior by enabling consumers to access fresh food when your store isn’t open.

As Store Brands previously reported, Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Pharmacy has earned kudos for placing vending machines selling CVS brand health and wellness essentials in airports, public transit sites and other high-traffic areas.

There are an infinite number of ways you can innovatively leverage vending technology to make your customers’ daily lives and shopping experiences easier, more rewarding and more fun.



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