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“Increasing Services!” - Japanese Vending Machines

If you walk around a town in Japan, you will notice that there are vending machines everywhere. That isn’t surprising considering that there are about 5.5 million vending machines in Japan, giving them the highest prominence rate in the world when calculating the population ratio. Of those, the number of machines specializing in beverage sales is about 2.56 million and one feature of these Japanese machines is that they don’t only sell cold drinks, but also hot drinks as well in one machine. You will also often see machines that have a selection of over 30 different products ranging from juice, soda, coffee, tea, Japanese tea, and hot soup all in one machine. The products they sell in addition to beverages are “limitless” with items such as ice cream, newspapers, paperback books, shrine charms, sweets and bread, fruit, vegetables, etc. Machines with unique features such as helping “customers” enjoy even seconds or tens of seconds spent at the machine by talking to the buyers are also being developed one after another.


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The new type of vending machine that indicates automatically recommended drinks once you stand in front of it. (Photo courtesy of JR East Water Business Co., Ltd.)


“What do You Recommend?”

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A street in Japan, a “major vending machine country” leading with the world’s top prevalence rate of vending machines by population and land area.

Have you ever had the experience of standing in front of a vending machine, unable to decide and thinking, “Well, what should I buy...”? A new innovation to relieve people from this kind of feeling is the latest vending machine with a function that recommends beverages that suit the buyers. They are being installed in areas centering on train stations in Tokyo.


By just standing in front of the vending machine it will automatically determine your gender and age with a probability of more than 70% using a face recognition sensor at the top of the machine. A “recommended” mark is then indicated on select beverages based on the buyers attribute information, time of purchase, temperature, etc. For example, let’s say a woman in her 30’s is standing in front of the vending machine on a cold winter morning. Many women would probably consider buying something like hot tea, corn soup, or beauty drinks.


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A screen image showing the weather and temperature information on the vending machine display. There is even a casual comment saying, “Today is hot, isn’t it?”, next to the weather mark. (Photo courtesy of JR East Water Business Co., Ltd.) The digital display of the vending machine reading, “Large Earthquake Occurrence - Free Provisions”. It can even display disaster information like evacuation instructions. (Photo courtesy of Coca-Cola(Japan)Company, Limited)

With the sophisticated design of new machines, the feeling of operating the touch display is as if you are operating a giant smart phone. Products in the vending machine that have been sold out will be removed from its line-up. In some cases, after purchasing a product, the machines will display a slot machine that makes buyers happy with campaigns where winners can receive another drink free, or will display information like temperature and weather information on the screen, making them helpful to people passing by.


Speaking of helpful functions, recently in Japan, the number of vending machines with functions to provide beverages for free as disaster relief in the event of a big disaster is also increasing. In fact, during the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, over 100 thousand drinks were provided to the disaster stricken areas. As it would be a waste not to utilize such a common machine, initiatives are being set forth in various locations to quickly inform people about warnings and evacuation instructions by adding digital displays that show disaster information.



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An image of the application display for the virtual store manager service designed to communicate with buyers. Once you choose your favorite actress, you can receive messages just by walking in front of the vending machine. (Courtesy of Coca-Cola(Japan)Company, Limited)

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Even Vending Machines Have Store Managers?

There are probably some people who feel that “Even though vending machines are convenient, they are still just machines. There is no warmth to them like there is when you buy from a store,” so what beverage manufacturers in Japan have come up with is the “virtual store manager” service.


The virtual store manager was introduced in 980 thousand coffee vending machines for a limited time last fall. If you download the application into your smart phone and register the vending machine you frequently use, that vending machine will send you messages and special videos from your chosen “store manager,” played by female entertainers, every time you pass by it. When you go near the vending machine on your way home from work, you will be so happy when you receive messages from the “store manager” saying “good job on your work today”, that it will cause a phenomenon of your going to your “favorite shop” without even thinking about it.


Live Footage of the Progress Inside

There are also vending machines where you can enjoy authentic drip brewed coffee that is comparable to coffee that has been brewed carefully by a coffee shop master. After pushing the button to purchase, coffee beans will begin grinding then coffee will be slowly drip brewed and served one cup at a time with this machine developed by Japanese manufacturers for the first time in the world. Additionally, the unique thing about this machine is the live footage on the monitor screen, which shows the whole process up until you receive your coffee, from a camera inside the machine. It takes about one minute from the time that the beans begin grinding until the time that you receive your coffee from the dispenser, so this was invented to give you something to enjoy during that waiting time. There are many repeat customers who “always end up buying from these machines because it is so fun to watch its movements while it is diligently working for you.”


If you walk around a town in Japan, you are bound to run into one of these fun machines packed with this sense of enjoyment along with its products.


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The “mill-ground coffee” vending machine which shows live footage of the status of the coffee process, and the drip status within the machine. (Photo courtesy of TOYO VENDING CO., LTD.)

(March 2014)

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