What Makes a Smart Vending Machine Smart? Lessons from Asia

Before popping up in the US, smart vending first took Asia by storm.
smart orange juice vending machine in Hong Kong
HONG KONG - freshly squeezed orange juice anyone?

In today’s world, convenience is key. Whether you’re on a bustling city street or in a busy office building, the allure of a quick and easy snack is hard to resist. This is why smart vending machines have taken hold in our society.

Before popping up in the US, smart vending first took Asia by storm. It was in this part of the world that our founder, Darwin, found inspiration for what is now our smart fridge microstore.

This summer, FoodSpot sent me to 5 countries around Asia Pacific to document what smart vending machines look like in this advanced market today. I saw a wide range of applications.

smart vending machine in hong kong
HONG KONG – It’s hard NOT to touch this screen

Whether I saw one in Thailand or Taiwan, Indonesia or Japan, I always asked myself the same question, “What makes this smart vending machine smart!?” Here are some observations I made.

main standing in front of an orange snack vending machine
THAILAND – This pedestrian overpass is the commute for thousands of locals every day

1. Interactivity

Smart vending machines bid farewell to the days of blindly inserting coins and hoping for the best. Instead, they let consumers interact with the products by viewing them on a touch screen or unlocking the door completely and interacting firsthand.

In both cases, consumers gain access to detailed product information, nutritional facts, and even reviews.

In the case of smart fridges with intelligent inventory tracking, consumers can check the freshness of products first-hand by unlocking the fridge with a payment method. This interaction empowers consumers with confidence to make the purchase.

2. Connectivity

snack and drink vending machine in the Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong – One of the busiest airports in the world couldn’t resist smart vending

Most smart vending machines keep track of inventory in real time. This allows the operator to remotely keep an eye on expirations and maintain inventory levels. Many smart vending companies allow operators to communicate this information to their customers in personal ways.

FoodSpot operators have the option to publish a consumer app, so their customers can always know what is in their smart fridge locations. This also allows operators to send promotions for products nearing expiration or even notify individual users when their favorite product has been freshly stocked.

Connectivity between the fridge, the operator, and the consumer allows for an omni-channel, brand-forward experience that drives ROI and brand loyalty.

woman ordering chicken katsu from a vending machine in Japan
JAPAN – Chicken katsu for dinner, bought from a subway station

3. Variety

Interaction and connectivity allow for product offerings that are no longer limited to shelf-stable items placed on spiraled shelves. Because inventory and expirations can be tracked in real-time, fresher products can be placed in smart vending machines.

Smart fridges allow for even more variety in size and shape. For example RFID-enabled smart fridges can be stocked with anything from La Croixs to sushi rolls to microwaveable pasta bowls.

The Real Reason Smart Vending Machines are Smart

Interactivity, connectivity, and variety are all characteristics of smart vending machines. But if my trip to Asia revealed anything, it is that there’s really only one thing that makes a smart vending machine smart: it gets you to buy.

Let me tell you about an experience I had in Hong Kong.

First, you should know that I am the last person to make an impulse purchase. But that all changed one night when I was taking a walk in Hong Kong.

I was taking an evening stroll after dinner–a typical practice I do to take down my blood glucose before bed (needless to say, buying food was the last thing on my mind). But then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a smart vending machine.

large touch screen vending machine
The site of this smart vending machine was not tempting…at first

Again, I asked myself, “Now what makes this smart vending machine smart?” As I turned to walk away, something caught my eye. It was a small line of text written under one of the products,

0 sugar, 0 calories, 0 fat.”

close up of product information on a smart vending machine
“0 calories?” I was hooked.

“Now that’s my kind of drink.” I thought to myself, “But I don’t have cash on me.” I looked to my right to see the terminal that accepts Octopus Cards, Hong Kong’s go-to payment card that can be used to purchase pretty much anything. When I’m out and about in Hong Kong, I always take my Octopus Card, and this night was no exception.

So there I was, staring down a refreshing zero-calorie lemon soda at tap-to-pay convenience.

The rest, as they say, is history.

man holding a lemon drink in front of a touch screen vending machine
Sold, in every sense of the word


So, what makes a smart vending machine smart? It gets you to buy.

This looks different depending on the culture and consumer base. I live and breathe smart vending in the US, yet it wasn’t obvious to me why the machines in Asia were smart, even though Asia was inspiration for our product in the first place. This is because different markets need different smart vending solutions.

As American foodservice veterans, we adapted our Asian-inspired solution for the American market. Our product testing has shown that selling restaurant-quality food unattended in the U.S. calls for a certain recipe:

stainless steel smart fridge stocked with fresh food

The FoodSpot Smart Fridge Microstore

  1. Simplicity – the smartest smart vending hardware in the US does not dilute the customer experience with bells and whistles, hence our clean build and lightning-fast, intuitive transaction experience.
  2. Confidence – American consumers require a certain level of confidence when buying fresh food unattended, hence our smart fridge’s ability to unlock and allow them to interact with products freely.
  3. Security – American operators need to maintain the highest level of food safety and security, hence our per-item expiration tracking, security camera and deadbolt locking mechanism that only opens with a valid payment method.

We have found that, in the US, this is what makes a smart vending machine smart.

If you’re interested in selling restaurant-quality food 24/7 on your campus, in your building, or in your community, reach out! We’d love to talk.


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