The 3 Worst Ideas in the Vending Industry

VICKI - the worst idea in vending.

Vending has gone through a revolution of sorts in recent years. From the traditional snacks and drinks machines of yesteryear, the industry is now showcasing full-featured Automated Retailing Centers and Micro Markets that sell everything from jewelry to cosmetics to iPhones to automobiles.

But have some of these vending manufacturers taken an idea too far and produced a machine that is wildly out of touch with consumers? Or have they developed a machine that just could never deliver on the promise it made? Or are the machines just a really bad idea?

We are unveiling the 3 worst ideas in vending. Read ‘em and weep… or laugh.


According to Forbes, Thomas Murn, creator of the “Vicki” vending machine, nearly went bust in 1991. Then in 2012, he was almost wiped out a second time.

For better or for worse, he keeps reinventing himself and creates new types of vending machines. Looking at his latest absurdly named vending machine called “Vicki,” we think it’s for the worse.

According to the company’s website, the machine is “powered by artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies” and is “the first retail solution to leverage AI at the point-of-sale.”

Yes, someone thinks that a vending machine needs artificial intelligence. vicki - the worst idea in vending.

The machine also can talk to you.

Maybe this won’t be a bad thing. When we go to order an unhealthy, sugary soft drink, maybe “Vicki” can softly prod us, “Wouldn’t you like something healthier instead?”

The Artificial Intelligence is touted as a “Humanized chat experience for FAQs and product questions.”  We look forward to asking, “Hey Vicki, will my wife get mad at me it I eat a candy bar before going home for dinner?”

The company’s website refers to the machine as if it’s an actual person. It states, “She takes the POS experience to the next level in an Amazon and Google world.”

Sorry, but that humanization of a machine is just creepy.

Moreover, for some ungodly reason, the machine features a retinal scanner “for added security.” So now all those criminals that wanted to bust into a machine to steal a bottle of Coke will be forced to submit to a retinal scan before they can take off with the loot.

Seriously, a retinal scan on a vending machine? It’s not only potentially dangerous (we wouldn’t trust a vending machine device to scan our eyes), but it is also technology that is wildly unnecessary and misplaced.

A company spokesman said that the retinal scanner will increase security on the machines, which could be stocked with high value items like drones.

Drones? In a vending machine? Whoever thought this was a good idea should go back to business school.

Murn’s machine is a re-work of a system he named “Lisa” that he unveiled at last year’s major vending trade show. However, the system needed work, so it was redesigned and renamed “Vicki.”

It seems that Murn wants to be the “Godfather of Vending.” In an article in Crain’s New York, Murn said that the talking machine will make “hard to refuse offers” like suggesting a bottle of water to go with a sandwich.

Stop twisting my arm, Vicki!

“This is so much more than a vending machine,” said Murn. The machine “can pull information from Facebook and say, ‘Happy birthday’… You can’t do any of that with a vending machine.”

Hold the presses. The machine is looking at my Facebook page and knows my birthdate?

So not only is this machine loaded with unnecessary, obtrusive and potentially dangerous technology, but it also invades your privacy?

Murn says he already has 5,000 orders for his new machine and is gearing up to produce 1,000 per week starting in August. “The first orders will go to corporate offices and employee lounges at Citigroup, MediaMath, Morgan Stanley, Northwell Health and Victoria’s Secret, among others,” according to Crains.

We find this somewhat hard to believe. In this era when companies are continually being hacked and customer’s private information is being stolen by criminals, why would any corporation expose their employees or the public to this additional risk, just to allow them to buy a bag of chips?

This is an idea that has failure written all over it.



“You know what this place needs,” I said to myself this morning, as I went into the little store around the corner where I buy my daily coffee, my breakfast sandwiches, my late-night potato chips, and my emergency aspirin. “What it needs is less stuff, and to be inside my apartment building, and also to accept Apple Pay.”

No, of course I didn’t say that. If you’re a living human being in the United States who has ever had a dollar in your pocket, you’ve probably been in a bodega — or, depending on where you live, maybe you call it a corner store, convenience store, deli, or party store. Maybe it’s attached to a gas station. Maybe it is a gas station.

For some reason, former Google employees Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan think all of them need to be disrupted.

An article in Fast Company profiled Bodega, the duo’s startup, which seeks to replace these corner stores with boxes. Specifically, five-foot-wide, wifi-enabled boxes stocked with non-perishable goods, which we can access by downloading an app, and picking up the items we’d like in view of a computer-vision camera which will automatically charge us for our purchase.

“Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary,” McDonald told Fast Company, “because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you.”

The backlash was swift. Declaring that you want to replace family-run, neighborhood-oriented storefront retail with computerized protein-bar transaction cubes is not really the fast track to community embrace.Bodega: One of the worst ideas in Vending.

There’s a lot to loathe (and a lot to mock) about Bodega, including the name itself, which nods to the immigrant families who often own the stores the startup wants to put out of business.

Fortunately for its critics, and unfortunately for McDonald, Rajan, and their investors, Bodega faces more obstacles than just a morning of high-intensity Twitter loathing. A range of conveniently located, beautifully merchandised kiosks with an easy app-based point of sale and an evolving range of user-calibrated products seems like a nice, attractive idea. But something like that is built on an intensely complex logistical apparatus — and that’s going to be an enormous challenge.

Bodega’s product is, fundamentally, a vending machine – a tiny, self-contained store without an employee saves all sorts of overhead: Less required real estate, and lower payroll.

This is where things seem likely to fall apart for Bodega. Even with their wifi connections and app-connected camera sensors, the units themselves are still just offering consumers a basic model of unmanned commerce.

What Bodega does offer as a differentiator is the promise that the products will not just be tailored to their general environments — protein bars in the gym, tampons in a sorority house — but to their specific users. A promise of “machine learning” that will “constantly reassess the 100 most-needed items in that community.”

So many products, across so many Bodegas, in so many unique configurations poses a set of phenomenally complex logistical conundra: How are the products purchased? Where are they warehoused? How are they bundled for distribution to their unique Bodegas? Who restocks the Bodegas? How are the restocks transported? How can the company ensure that there’s sufficient route density — that there are enough Bodegas in each local area, which need to be restocked frequently enough, on harmonious schedules, to cover the costs of labor and transportation?

Labor is not a minor issue, with a company like this one. “Unmanned retail” isn’t a precisely accurate phrase: There may not be a person ringing up your transaction, but there are plenty of people working to maintain a system that allows that absence. Bodega’s warehouses will need to be staffed. The trucks will need to be driven. The Bodegas themselves will need to be manually restocked — each can, bottle, and box placed one by one onto each unit’s shelves. Many traditional vending machine companies employ restockers who double as machine repairers. Will a Bodega restocker be trained to fix a busted computer-vision camera?

Bodega is audacious. It is rash and thoughtless. It’s ethically and culturally bankrupt, but it also seems to be poorly constructed and unsustainably scaled. It is one of the worst ideas in vending.


Let’s Pizza

In addition to an awful name, this vending machine that promises to make a pizza from scratch in under 3 minutes is an example of “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

Let’s Pizza was created by Italian Claudio Torghel and is distributed by A1 Concepts, based out of The Netherlands.

The machine plans on competing with established American pizza makers like Dominoes, Ballpark, Pizza Hut and Papa Johns, to name a few.Let's Pizza: One of the worst ideas in Vending.

The machine contains a specially developed bag of flour and a bag of mineral water. Every time you order a pizza, the machine will start making the dough, then shape it into a crust, and top it with organic tomato sauce. Next, one of the toppings is placed on top and the pizza is ready for the oven. In just 2.5 minutes after you’ve ordered, a fresh and hot pizza is ready to eat. This is because of the machine’s infra-red oven.

Each pizza machine contains ingredients for 200 pizzas. But one wonders how long it may take for the system to crank out that many pizzas and be restocked. Would you want a pizza made from ingredients kept in a vending machine for an untold number of days (or weeks)?

According to the company you’ll soon be able to find Let’s Pizza at malls, airports, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, universities, gas stations, bus stations… you know, the kind of place where you suddenly find yourself thinking, “Gee, a pizza from a vending machine would be really good right now.”

Perhaps we are unique, but we don’t think pumping gas and pizza vending go hand-in-hand.