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Shop Till It Drops 494

Posted by michael
from the all-in-wonder dept.
Ando Japando writes "There's an article on NYTimes.com about a new vending machine in the US. Unlike the typical machine, this one is 18 ft wide and takes up 200 square ft. Of course, the convenience stores are not sure if this machine is a boon or a boo, but many people like it because it doesn't take up a lot of space. It'd be really cool to see these all over the place. Others complain about the lack of human interaction and perceive it as dehumanizing. That may be true, but at least it's not a live bait vending machine."
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Shop Till It Drops

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  • by overshoot (39700) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:09AM (#4155892)
    but something very much like it is quite common in Japan. The last time I was there, there was a beast of a machine that sold everything from fast food to condoms in the lobby.
    • Yes, I have seen all this stuff in Japanese vending machines (from most common to least):
      Soft drinks (of course) sometimes with 1.5 liter bottles
      beer & sake
      cigarettes (EVERYWHERE)
      porn
      gum
      pantyhose
      ties
      umbrellas (in train stations)
      rice
      eggs (in a vending machine that just sold eggs)
      rice-polishing (In the country - Put in your money and it polishes your brown rice into white rice)

      And there's a lot more. [sonic.net] But I have never seen a snack vending machine that just sold candy bars, chips, etc... Weird.

      Also, in Japan - you can be driving in the country, with very little to see, come around the corner, and there is a vending machine, standing by itself with nothing around. It's an odd and amusing experience.

      As for huge vending machines, I saw one like this in the Geneva train station. Had everything.

    • Vending machines are extremely common in Japan due to their low crime rates, which allow for such machines to be operated with minimal concerns about theft.

      There are very few things you can't get from a vending machine in Japan nowadays. :-)
      • low crime rates, which allow for such machines to be operated with minimal concerns about theft.

        Not true. Crime against vending machines is quite rare everywhere primarily because a vending machine can be built like a tank and locked up six ways from Sunday. Even in the worst neighborhoods you can still find vending machines. The reasons why Japan has so many vending machines are primarily a) lack of real estate necessary to accommodate a traditional walk-in store, and b) technological solutions are readily accepted (often they are the first considered) in Japan.
    • by macshit (157376) <(gro.ung) (ta) (selim)> on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:40AM (#4156145) Homepage
      Yeah, Japan's the place for this sort of thing.

      Besides the ones you often hear about (porn, etc), some wierd ones I've seen in japan include:

      • A machine selling cookies & other snacks -- not the usual little packs, but huge family-sized boxes; the delivery-door was about 15" x 15"!
      • A machine selling full-sized bottles of Whisky (all japanese brands though)
      ... and my favorite:
      • A machine selling potted plants -- fairly large, leafy ones (like a foot high), complete with a big clay flowerpot. It looked like it had a fairly elaborate mechanism to deliver the plants to a little door (well actually a pretty big door) without harming them.
      The wierd thing is that all of the above were not in obvious `specialty' locations (e.g., near a nursery for the plants), but just in front of fairly average train stations, or just on the street in the middle of nowhere!

      I do not understand...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I want my Big Gulp and my hot dog with onions with as little (sub)human interaction as possible. They should just retrofit existing convenience stores with androids that know how to make change and get more Coors Light suitcases out of the back and point out the aisle with the barbecue chips.
  • by edrugtrader (442064) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:09AM (#4155899) Homepage
    i buy stuff on the internet all the time. if it doesn't come or arrives broken, i am basically screwed and have to deal with RMAs and trying to get my money back.

    if everything came out of a machine, if my merchandise doesn't come or arrives broken, i can kick the shit out of the machine. MUCH BETTER.
  • Removing human interaction is the trend, and it's going to keep happening. Two national chains that I know of off the top of my head : Sheetz & Wawa have both removed human interaction from the ordering process for food - you interact with a touch screen, and the order is printed for the human to process. For now - phase 1 - the human is still visible, and exists.
    Look at grocery checkout lines - I'm sure you've all seen the image recognition lines that photograph and weigh your items and let you check them out yourselves.

    I'm pretty sure we're going to tell our kids about the days you had to talk to people to buy things at the store.

    I was in Sheetz once, and a man walked in and tried to order a sandwich. He was pressing buttons for quite some time and growing visibly more distressed, until after a while he looked over the counter and said "Can't I just talk to somebody?".
    It became apparent to me after some reflection that the gentleman was illiterate.

    All I know is, if that thing fails to drop my diapers, tipping it is going to be a bitch.

    • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:25AM (#4156017)
      Automats have been around for a hundred years. The fact they never caught on must demonstrate that shoppers prefer the human touch. That doesn't mean vending machines and their ilk don't have a place, but that any store that thinks it can do away with humans will soon find itself filing for bankruptcy.
    • I hate those automated checkout machines at the grocery store...maybe it goes back to the UI class I had in college, but those machines don't "afford" usability, as my professor might say. It doesn't make sense to me to keep trying to scan things til the machine gets it right, then rotate the little baggy carousel, fill the next bag, and so on; particularly if I have a very large cart load, so there isn't enough space on the carousel.

      Maybe, despite my course work in CS, the fact that I can build a pc and write code, the fact that I figured out my microwave, stereo system, and telephone, maybe I'm just dumb :)
    • Look at grocery checkout lines - I'm sure you've all seen the image recognition lines that photograph and weigh your items and let you check them out yourselves.

      Not in my town, unless bar-code scanners count as "image recognition". I imagine that camera over the touchscreen (I'm thinking of the A&P setup) is for security to glance over and see if you've tucked a steak into your pants.

      Me, I like those things, but then again, I remember seeing a list of "Real Geek" qualities once, and I think number 3 was "Knowing that you could scan items faster than the clerk if only you had the chance". Well, now I have the chance.

      My favourite game is to anticipate each step, so that I swipe my card through just as the machine starts its "Press 'Credit' on the card reader...", so that each sentence gets truncated to just the first syllable. It's a rich and full life I lead. :)

    • I've always thought that we've dehumanized the people that are basically doing the job of a robot dispensing these goods.

      Fast food is the perfect example. I don't really consider what I do there human interaction.

      1) wait in line
      2) exchange token greeting
      3) make bad joke (no reponse from server)
      4) order by number
      5) give money
      6) get food
      7) leave

    • My theory on how they slip this in to the marketplace goes like this:

      Step 1) Make all jobs requireing human interaction pay almost nothing. This way you will be sure that your stores will only be able to hire people who can work nowhere else due to poor social skills, anger management problems, etc...

      Step 2) Wait for customers to become annoyed with service.

      Step 3) Introduce "convienince" machine so that people have option to deal with surly employees.

      This is the way the banks went with ATMs, the grocery stores are currently going and I imagine the way that the gas stations will eventually go.

      Here in NJ, self service gas is not allowed. There has been a huge drop in the quality of service you get from the attendants in the past few years. They don't come around to your door to get your money anymore. I had an attendant do the whole transaction through my sunroof! At this rate I will gladly accept robotic gas filling when it becomes feasable.

      -pos

    • I absolutely *love* the U-Scan. I don't have to wait in long lines for a person to check me out, I don't have to fool around w/waiting for someone to bag it and then having to do it anyway.

      I just walk into the line, scan my groceries, scan my credit card (yeah I know, privacy concerns, but I hate cash), and I am out the door.

      There is one problem w/it though. Most people who go to the store see the U-Scan and think "wow, how easy!" These are normally 70 year olds (grandmothers mostly) who cannot figure out (for the life of them) how to scan their own items. I usually end up doing it for them to keep the line moving.

      The hell w/human interaction. I want speed and efficiency. I do it better than the checkers do and w/o having to wait in line for a year.
    • If you're going to quote from Pastor Niemöller [liv-coll.ac.uk] at least get it right:
      First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for me.

  • by Ando[evilmedic] (199537) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:11AM (#4155907) Homepage
    I'm just guessing, but that's probably the first time we've slashdotted a site pertaining to 'live bait.' That link was absolutely and totally random...
  • by plurrbat (589706) <stupomush.yahoo@com> on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:12AM (#4155914)
    I don't find it dehumanizing. I find it GREAT! Now I can buy the 75 pack of enemas and the forbidden magazines without that weird guy behind the counter looking at me like I'm a freak.
  • by Kristoffor (562485)
    on the horizon... I hear they are planning a vending machine for body parts to be installed in large hospitals. Just insert your credit card and punch buttons to receive a lovely, hardly used replacement liver!
    • Then, of course, you'll have a different machine, right across from it, selling body parts cheaper, with the following disclaimer:

      These appear to be functional, but are untested by this hospital. No returns.

      (my stab at some sellers on ebay....)
  • exp. dates (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kin_korn_karn (466864) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:14AM (#4155928) Homepage
    what happens if products that expire, like eggs and milk, don't get "changed out" in time? What recourse do you have?
    • This has happened to me before... I just ate 'em anyway (it was candy, so it didn't seem too bad... Not sure I'd want to drink month-old milk or anything, though).

      I'd like to think that you could call the machine operator and ask for a refund/exchange (particularly if you haven't opened it). I suppose some might refuse, but threatening to call the Better Business Bureau and the FDA to report that they're selling out-of-date food might change their mind ;)

    • you can save your puke in a bag and throw it on the guy that stocks the machine.
  • After he inserted a $10 bill and punched numbers on a screen, the crowd watched a metal bin rise to collect a package of razor blades from one shelf and a can of shaving cream from another.

    I'm not sure whether this would make it more or less embarassing to buy that rose and box of condoms on a Friday night...

  • neato (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fanolex (49666)
    before i even checked out the article i was going to say that i'd seen one of these in adams morgan a block from the bfs' - i hadn't realized it was the only one in the US.

    i haven't actually had the nerve to go up and use it yet, but it's a great idea considering there aren't any 24-hour convenience stores in the immediate vicinity.
    • oh, never mind that we have a 24-7 Giant supermarket (a clean one, too!) and a 24-7 Home depot (word of warning: don't buy new closet materials at 11:30pm on a Saturday, there is 1 check out line and 4,000,000 people on it) in gaithersburg/rockville,

      I'm totally there!
  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:17AM (#4155954)
    I saw a program about Japan which featured a porn vending machine which was out on the street. Aside from the usual magazines and condoms, you could also buy a sex cup - a paper cup containing spongy jelly that you had intercourse with. Will the wonders of technology ever cease?
    • a paper cup containing spongy jelly that you had intercourse with

      *I* most certainly did not have intercouse with a spongy thingy. And by the way, what kind of freak would it take to sell some spongy stuff *I* had intercourse with? Or even worse, what kind of ueber freak would buy the spongy stuff that I had intercourse with. Aaaah. The horror (** sound of hair being torn out of head**)
    • by theDEFT (254259) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:27AM (#4156028) Homepage
      speaking for the entire community, can you tell me a little more about the sex cup please.
    • A friend of mine did a work term in Japan, and he told lots of interesting stories. Some of those vending machines dispense "School Girls' panties". You get the used panties, and a little story about the girl they belonged to.

      There were also places to stay in Tokyo called "capsule hotels", for men only, like little stacked coffins you could sleep in, and it cost nearly $100 a night. He said each one had a little television in it, and the only stations you could get were porn!

      Anyone have any first hand evidence?
      • Capsule hotels... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wumingzi (67100)
        The capsule hotels are for real. It exists to fill a market niche.

        Subways in Japan are (reasonably) cheap. Taxis by contrast cost a nut. The subway closes down at midnight. If you get caught out after the last subway leaves, and you're living in the 'burbs, you're looking at dropping a Benjamin or two in order to get back home.

        So what's a party guy to do other than sleep it off in the gutter?

        Answer: the capsule hotel.
      • There was an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer had these Japanese businessmen pay him to stay overnight and they slept in an oversized chest of drawers. Kramer mentioned that they did this all the time in Japan, but I didn't think he was serious until now!
      • "A friend of mine did a work term in Japan, and he told lots of interesting stories. Some of those vending machines dispense "School Girls' panties". You get the used panties, and a little story about the girl they belonged to. There were also places to stay in Tokyo called "capsule hotels", for men only, like little stacked coffins you could sleep in, and it cost nearly $100 a night. He said each one had a little television in it, and the only stations you could get were porn! Anyone have any first hand evidence?"

        About the vending machines with undergarments. I have read other articles saying that this *was* real but now it is outlawed by trade reglations. Go do a google. There was also an article on /. mentioning this a while back

        For those 'coffin hotels' I have seen videos of those. Back in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, there was this small feature that on CBC called "[reporter's name]'s Japanese Adventure" and they did a little featurette each time on a different aspect of Japanese culture. One of them was about hotels and those coffin hotels with the little TVs in them were featured, but there was no mention of pr0n. (Remember CBC is the official Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and aims for a wide audience, so pr0n is not mentioned.)

        • by Anonymous Coward
          I have lived in Tokyo since 1994. Panty machines were never particularly common, and it has been at least two years since I have seen one anywhere. Granted, I don't usually frequent areas where you'd be likely to find those, but even on occassions when I have been in those areas, they weren't common. I've only seen two or three of them in my life.

          Rubber machines are around, though. They aren't common, but you see them every once in a while. Oddly, they don't usually seem to be in proximity to any sex-related businesses, not even love hotels. There's one about 50 meters from one of my neighborhood convenience stores. Weird, because the convenience store also sells rubbers. There was also one on the road to the local high school, but it's gone now. I don't know if:

          1) High school students don't use rubbers much;
          2) The school pressured them to take it away;
          3) The students stole it :-)

          I haven't seen a pr0n vending machine in a long time, either. They may have been outlawed. Pr0n involving underage girls only got outlawed a couple years ago. Up until then, my neighborhood video store used to sell it.

          Tokyo and Nagano were the last two prefectures to outlaw prostitution by girls under 18. Before that, they both drew the line at 16 (the age of majority in Japan is 20). Tells you what politicians here and in Nagano are up to :-p

          While on that topic, and contrary to the squeaky clean media image that Japan works to hard to maintain abroad, prostitution is big business here. Whorehouses and similar operations are commonplace and operate openly, with signs describing what kind of place it is. This despite the fact that prostitution is illegal in Japan. The country's least enforced law. If it's enforced at all, it's only against foreign streetwalkers. Japanese ones are safe. Also contrary to the squeaky clean media image, there's a huge amount of xenophobia and racism here.

          Prostitution is very expensive here, though. Figure on $250 or more for sex, and that's *if* they'll let you in if s you're a foreigner. Some of the workers there may be foreigners (Southeast Asian or Eastern European) but in most places only Japanese are allowed to be customers. And I don't mean only Japanese citizens. I mean only ethnic Japanese (this doesn't include Japanese-Americans or anything like that, either, unless they can pass themselves off as Japanese by speaking at a native level).

          It's an odd place.

          Oh, about capsule hotels. They don't cost anything like $100 a night. They're the cheapest accomodations around, try $35 - $50. This is dirt cheap in Japan. Only the gutter is less :-)
  • Imagine a grandma accidentially punching in the number for condoms, instead of her skin cream. No returns... very bad for customer relations.

    I imagine they can save a couple bucks an hour on labor, but at what cost? You lose some business because it can't service you to all your whims. if something you buy is obviously defective, oh well. buy another one. That doesn't cut it with Real People. And how much does one of these cost? If it's, say, $200k (i'm guessing, wildly), plus service when it breaks down, plus electricity costs, plus someone who stocks the machine, is it really worth it to save the 50 thousand or so a year (365 days, 6 an hour, 24 hours a day)? Small regualr candybar/chip/pop machines cost up to 10 thousand up front, are produced by the masses and are already very accepted by society.

    I'm really not seeing this thing becoming the all-answer to our problems, though it may have a niche market.

    • I imagine they can save a couple bucks an hour on labor, but at what cost?

      You also save a bundle on real estate - probably more than you would ever save on the personnel.

      I like the idea. Sometimes I'm just not sociable, and I just want to get my stuff and get home without having to interact with anybody. Some people have it far worse; a social phobia can make going to a store a nightmare for them. This is a great, low-pressure way of doing small shopping without having to flash a false smile at some inane, equally fake, greeting from a cashier, or be looked at as a jerk because you could not give exact change.

      /Janne

    • very bad for customer relations.


      Eh. Nah. There's no one at the machine to run back to crabbing that you didnt get what you wanted. I bet 99% of people will cool off and just forget about it by the time they feel like calling the company up and going through a process. The bigger things get, the worse customer service gets. I mean, why bother? If you're a little company, sure, begging for that last 10% of the scraps is what gets you ahead, but eventually its old hat, you have all the money you really need.. and you have your local monopoly... so who cares? Let em try and find something else to eat! I completely respect the path of least resistance. Thats why I say, if you're too dumb to use the vending machine in the first place, well... go hungry! It's a self solving problem, cause if too many dumb people die off, we'll have to start thinking about good customer service again!

  • Did anyone ever read A Stainless Steal Rat is Born? It's been a long time since I read it, but in the book the main character spends a good bit of time in an automated fastfood restaurant hiding from the police. It was really easy for him to steal food there since it had a built in test button that served up sandwiches to the back room, and since there were no employees noone was there to stop him (except the restocking guy, who came once a week).

    The restaurant itself was really cool, a person would put in their order, and the automated system would have everything cooked and ready to go before the customer even got their money out to pay. Much better than McDonalds, which in some places can be slower than a sit down restaurant because the employees are so slow.
    • McSwineys, if I remember correctly.

      You should see the McDonalds on International Drive in Orlando, FL. While it is HUGE -- one of the largest in the world, largest PlayPlace (tm) in the world, gameroom -- it is highly automated.

      Robot arms handle the fries, from pulling them from the grease, also dumping and salting them.

      I've often wondered why someone doesn't try the McSwiney's approach.
      • I was at a huge McDonalds in Orlando a long time ago, possibly the one you are talking about. That too was several years ago. ;-)

        Back then real people did everything. Personally I'd like to see the McSwiney's approach.... hey now, this sounds like a great start-up idea! I just need a few dumb VCs and a truckload of frozen meat...
      • It comes down to cost. 8 years ago when I worked at McDonalds we considered a robotic fry vat. The one we had wasn't working well anymore, so a new one was required. However the cost got in the way. Something like 5 times the price just to get the robotic version. We could not make the payments.

        McDonalds really wants to replace all their fry vats and grills with robotic versions. The oil is somewhere between 300 and 450 degrees (f), and burns are common. However the cost couldn't be justified. Build a robot that is reliable and cheep and they will make you rich. (remember though that the enviorment isn't the easiest to work with, it all has to pass FDA inspection, and greese tends to clog things)

  • The machine's name is Shop 2000! I wonder how long it will take for the number 2000 to stop being associated with all things futuristic? 2010? 3000?
  • by hyacinthus (225989) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:23AM (#4155992)
    "Whoever made this is a genius. A guy in the store can make a mistake or give you a hard time, but not the machine. I definitely prefer the machine to a person."

    Just wait until this fellow puts in five dollars only to see it disappear without a trace, or until that packet of Pop-Tarts gets stuck halfway off its little rack and won't drop however much he kicks the machine. He'll start looking for someone to whine to about getting his money back.

    Ah, well, I shouldn't complain. I work for a company which thinks that providing us with a couple of tables, a Coke machine and one of those automat machines which dispenses packaged Danish and five-dollar sandwiches satisfies their obligation to provide us with a cafeteria.

    hyacinthus.
    • Just wait until this fellow puts in five dollars only to see it disappear without a trace, or until that packet of Pop-Tarts gets stuck halfway off its little rack and won't drop however much he kicks the machine. He'll start looking for someone to whine to about getting his money back.

      If that were a problem, payphones would never have taken off, nor indeed any other sorts of vending machines. There's probably a label on the front giving a number to call if there are any real problems. Route this number to a depot and one maintenance man's territory is simply a function of how frequently the machine fails.

  • I have to agree with the critics on this one. This might be a good idea in a few select locations (high crime, etc...) but for the most part it's too dehumanizing for american culture.

    Besides, of the "four C's" mentioned in the article (cigarettes, cold drinks, candy, and coffee) three of them already have dedicated vending machines, and the fourth did for a long time until they became illegal (at least in CA). There's still a place for convenience stores.

    Even at 2:30am in the morning, when I stop in for a coffee and some sort of warm snack in the middle of a road trip, the small amount of human interaction I receive there is important.
  • They seem to be making a big deal of how they're much less likely to be robbed -- you can shoplift, and you can't hold up a vending machine.

    But what's to stop someone determined from throwing a cinder block through the glass panel? Maybe it's really strong Plexiglass or something, but I'm sure a really determined person can get right through it. It'd be very obvious that you were robbing it (people chucking cinder blocks through windows don't tend to go unnoticed...), but I think it would be definitely possible. I'd actually be more worried about theft from this than I would from a store.

    • I'll admit you have a very good point -- if no one is around, how do you keep honest people honest?

      Obviously, as in most situations with convenience stores, they make their best attempt (usually with $$ the deciding factor) to keep their product and employees safe. That doesn't mean it's always good, though. Someone can always steal something.

      But back to what I originally wanted to say: What's to stop someone determined from throwing a cinder block through the convenience store worker's head?
      • Nothing really stops you, I suppose, except for ethics.

        Not that I'd do either, but stealing something from a vending machine is petty theft (and vandalism if you have you break into it...). Throwing a cinder block "through the convenience store worker's head" is murder. I've seen people trying to "tip" machines to get free food, and my only thought was "How pathetic is it that they spend twenty minutes brutally attacking a machine... for a pack of LifeSavers?" But I think I'd have a very different reaction to an armed robbery.

        Your point is good too, it's just that there are probably people who wouldn't think twice of vandalizing a machine and stealing some things, but who wouldn't think for a second of armed robbery.

      • "I'll admit you have a very good point -- if no one is around, how do you keep honest people honest?"

        Lots of witnesses maybe? If the vending machines are kept in a publicly visible place (and they usually are), the incentive to steal would probably go WAY down. A real store provides a nice closed obscured location to stick up the cashier, etc.
      • Re:Theft? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bluGill (862)

        Read Design of Everyday things by Donald Norman.

        Vandals break windows, spray paint wood, and use a gun on convience store workers. (Obviously the latter is a different class of crime). In the book he accounts for a case of heavy glass that was broken several times within days of being put up. They finialy just put up plywood, and it was never broken, but it was painted all the time. The plywood was actually much easier to break than the glass it replaced, but nobody breaks plywood, they paint it. (or burn it, but it is hard to burn large parts of a panel)

        A convenience store worker's head does not afford the ability to throw a cinder block though it. You can do so, often killing the worker, but you don't think of that.

  • NYT login (Score:3, Informative)

    by lute3 (72400) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:25AM (#4156013) Homepage Journal
    I didn't see one posted yet, so here's the one I always use.

    login: generic99
    password: generic

    • Re:NYT login (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      random generator:
      http://www.majcher.com/nytview.html
      h ttp://www.alexburke.ca/nyt/
      sometimes you hafta do it a couple times though.
  • by Kraft (253059) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:28AM (#4156038) Homepage
    I recently realised that in the states "video/dvd renting vending machines" aren't the big thing. I just don't understand why.

    In Spain, France, Italy... most of Europe really... you find these cool little machines, about twice the size of a coke vending machine, where you can rent over 500 vhs or dvds any time of the day. Most of them don't require a membership card (which a f'ing annoying anyway), just a credit card. If you return the video within a few hours you pay much less. If you don't return it, they just charge your credit card. Simple and fair. No hazzle.

    But yeah... why aren't these machines the bomb in the States, where vending machines are so normal? Any thoughts?
    • I don't think vending machines are really very normal here in the U.S. I've never personally seen any kind of vending machine that accepts credit cards, and bill accepters only became common fairly recently.

      *shrug*
      This machine seems cool, though. I'd use it!
    • "But yeah... why aren't these machines the bomb in the States, where vending machines are so normal? Any thoughts?"

      In the USA and Canada, video rental stores are part of the culture. There are huge advertising campaigns connecting the *store name* with renting movies. (You probably have not seem that 'hamster and rabbit' blockbuster commercial, hehe.) If you ask the older population here, they would think that video rentals from vending machines should only be for pr0n and that you go to a STORE to rent movies ... just because that's the way it should be.

      The culture here demands that you go in to the store, sample the free popcorn, browse the ailes, pick up boxes up and read the descriptions, etc, compare with what your friends find and so on.

      Video rental stores here also sell a bunch of other (also machine-saleable) items like chips, salse, toy accessories (action figures, etc) for kids movies, candy, posters and so on.

      Overall, I'd say that it's just a question of the culture.

    • It's more fun to wander around in the store for an hour going "I don't know, what do you want to watch?"

  • Could anyone find any place with more pictures of it/it working? The article was quite limited in that area.
  • Dehumanizing is a good thing, here is the human experience: "Can I use your bathroom." noisclose "Sorry, I didn't hear you" no-is-close "I still can't understand what you are saying." IT'S LOCKED!!!!!!!! "Ahh. Okay, I get it now! Yeesh."
  • by RembrandtX (240864) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:32AM (#4156063) Homepage Journal
    This thing screams japan.

    200 ft is much less than another 2500 foot store hawking t-shirts and boardwalk crap in Ocean City, MD [where i think these things would clean up!]
    Rather than have 100 shops that all sell suntan oil, 70';s iron on decal t-shirts, and assorted crap, put a dozen of these babys in, free up all that space, and put more restraunts, or hell .. ANYTHING.

    what i don't understand is folks complaining about how dehumanizing these are.

    How is the 'inhumanity' of this machine a factor? Does the bored teenager/non english speaker/insaine freak behind the counter at a 7-11 REALLY provide you with a pleasant and memorable transaction? [Last time I walked into a 7-11 .. i was greeted by the teenage teller pocketing all the pennies from the penny cup.]

    Or what about when I walk into a gas station and can't find a single person there who can speak the native tounge of the area. (english.)

    No joke, maybe im just getting old, or maybe its different in New England or something, but when I was a kid - i remember being able to stop at a gas station and ask directions.

    Last week I was looking for a Dr.'s office in Towson MD. I stopped at a gas station and asked them where [X street was]. They had no idea.
    [or I gathered they had no idea, as they kept shouting 'no english, IDUNNO' at me.

    I gave up asking the attendants, and called the dr.'s office from the phone outside the gas station. The receptionist answered the phone, and when I told her where I was - she answered cryptically "Turn around."

    I did, and she was waving at me from inside the office across the street.

    Ok - bad on me for not realizing I *wasn't* lost .. but I was in a strange area that I had never been to before. I wan't to know what the excuse of the folks who WORKED on the street and still didn't know it was.

    of course, these machines don't have a map module yet . but GAWSH .. imagine if you could pay it a buck and get printed directions ..

    then again .. it probally would get them from map quest :(
    • Wal-Mart Nation (Score:5, Insightful)

      by David Wong (199703) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @11:25AM (#4156486) Homepage
      Going a step further, the truth is in the end we as a society get what we want. I see a parallel here to the Wal-Mart phenomenon, people screaming and crying because we lost "Main Street America" and all the quaint little shops ran by friendly old people, now run out of business by the huge, cold, evil product-dispensing Wal-Mart juggernaut.

      Why did it happen? With evil corporate tricks? Smoke and mirrors? No; it was because people like it better this way. We like getting everything we need in one place, getting it quick, getting it cheap. Those little mom and pop shopkeepers screwed me over far more often than Wal-Mart ever could. You think Old Man Funkle from down the street had Wal-Mart's "return anything for any reason for a refund" policy? Hell no. He smiled at us as we came into his little shop, place smelling like cigar smoke, and he gouged the hell out of us. His selection sucked, it took forever to get checked out...

      We have moved on. We need toothpaste, diapers, aspirin. We don't see getting those necessities as some wonderful opportunity to make new friends. If we could snap our fingers and make that stuff magically appear in our cabinets, we'd do it.

      With the machine, we've taken the next step. There is no line (or at least less of one), there is none of that annoyance we get with humanity. When I want a conversation I'll talk to a friend. When I want a box of kleenex, I'll go to the Kleenex machine. If something has been lost, it is solely because we chose to lose it.
    • by Mulletproof (513805)
      Hey, how can anyone say this is a truly bad thing? Those same people don't bitch about soda vending machine and those take the human element out of my soda transaction. Some things you just don't care about recieveing a warm smile and personalized attention over. And retail automation isn't the end of the world. It may actually become a pain in the ass when these things break and all you have is an automated line to whine to, but things will equal out as there will still be a demand for human interaction for some services. The more automation, the more people will pay for the premium of that warm smile and sypathetic ear in certain cases. I'll be personally happy when I don't have to wrestle with the language barrier because some dumbass put an employee who can't speak the language in a position where he interacts with people regularly. "I'd like fries with that." "What? No understand..." "FRIES. I WANT FRIES." "Habla no English fries. What you want?" "ARRRAAAHHHRRRG!!!" It's not rasism, just hiring the right person qualified for the job, not because you have a racial quota to fill (which is another story entirely...)
  • by joechip (59514) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {acitaics}> on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:33AM (#4156074) Homepage
    In issue 33, June 1957, Mad Magazine has an article called "Vending Machines of the Future." Including are such oversize machines as the Auto-Vend, which dispensed new cars for only 10,000 half dollars and the wife-o-mat, which seems like a great deal at only 20 half dollars.
    Finally, there is the vend-o-vend, which is the ultimate in future vending machines which dispenses a vending machine. This will in turn dispense a vending machine and so on. The final vending machine will dispense a dime for the first vending machine and the whole mess starts again...
    • When you mentioned the MAD magazine article, the writer and artist of that article most likely remembered the Automat restaurant near Times Square that served food dispensed from vending machines. Little did they know that modern technology has taken what that article mentioned into near-reality.
  • Yeah well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by VivisectRob (550902)
    I work 2 blocks down the street from the damn thing... The prices are outrageous... but... if you need diapers, condoms, or candy at 3am its a godsend. On another note, Adams Morgan consists mostly of low income housing and bars... and if some teen(s) in that housing or even the drunk fratties that frequent the area are willing to buy condoms from that thing instead of not at all, then the world is a better place because of it.
  • by bopbopaloobop (597609) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:34AM (#4156087)
    And I disagree with the the editor guy who said "I'm concerned about the people this is going to put out of work," Don't look at people as something that needs to be kept occupied. Think of all the more usefull things people can be freed up for when machines handle simple repetitive taskes. After all, is it a bad thing that there are soda vending machines instead of some guy spending his day standing at a vending stand selling the sodas? Is it bad that traffic lights have taken the place of a policeman standing in the intersection directing traffic? What about the poor scribes who are out of work now that we have copying machines? These people are all freed up to do something more usefull, and hopefully more interesting. This sort of progress is good.
  • Old News in Japan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MDMurphy (208495) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:35AM (#4156095)
    As touched on in the article, vending machine rule in Japan. We probably won't be getting the beer machines here, even though a machine is probably better at checking IDs.
    A toy store in the Ginza area has a giant vending area outside where there's Barbies and such going up to $100. Giftwrap is also included.

    Near where my Mom lived there was an egg vending machine. Best I could figure it was stocked by farmers just outside town. I thought it was a great idea. A very inexpensive storefront for the egg farmer. I wouldn't see that as dehumanizing, but rather a way for the farmer to sell his eggs direct in an affordable manner.
    • Re:Old News in Japan (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mr. Sketch (111112)
      We probably won't be getting the beer machines here

      Actually the previous company I worked for had a vending machine that dispensed beer (MGD and Icehouse), it was right next to the coke machine, and it didn't check id. The name of the company was Rockwell Software [rockwellsoftware.com], but I'm not sure if they still have the machine or not, it's been a few years since I've worked there.
  • dehumanising? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kevin lyda (4803) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:35AM (#4156098) Homepage
    a vending machine is dehumanising? are they trying to imply that working in a convenience store is not dehumanising? i suggest they go try it.
    • Re:dehumanising? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by IIRCAFAIKIANAL (572786) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @03:32PM (#4158439) Journal
      Right on!

      Speaking from experience, the most dehumanizing part of working as a cashier is the customers. And people wonder why cashiers are often snide and defensive - it's because one in four of the customers they serve is either rude or just plain evil.

      My girlfriend works as a cashier and yesterday some asshole was giving her shit because she had the audacity to want to verify his credit card signature. Personally, I have been threatened a number of times - usually the worst people were the white, middle-class types. Hell, in my city, I think more cashiers died last year than cops.

      She's really nice to all the customers, but she's getting more bitter and resentful and it's starting to show.

      People seem to assume that if you work in a store, you must be stupid or useless. My girlfriend has a university degree. She just wasn't lucky like the rest of us when it came time to start her career. Her supervisor has a masters in mathematics (or something, can't remember).

      If you hate having to deal with a bitchy cashier, maybe you should adjust *your* attitude and/or spend a day in their shoes.

      It's funny how much more respect I get now wearing a suit - I haven't changed one bit, but when I was a cashier I received all kinds of shit.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    At least not until they make one that dispenses the latest neighborhood gossip with each purchase, gives credit to regular customers, and sells dime bags under the counter.
  • Does anyone else remember the Internet Coke Machines, that you could finger and it would tell you how much of what kind of coke it had, and how cold it was (based on how long it had been in the machine).

    Combine the two concepts (the Vendotron and the Net Accessible inventory) and you have a winner.

    Sure, finger would need to be replaced with a web interface, but that can all be scripted...

    - Serge Wroclawski
  • dialing, that is. If voicemail passwords are any indication, the remote access pword shouldn't be too hard.

    "You can track sales remotely by dialing the machine's computer to find out exactly what's left of each item,"

    Someones going to have a ton of fun with this feature.

  • We've had these for years now, here in Belgian. Even the place my parents live (a small town on the countryside) has a few of these. There are especially popular when you don't have much time, or during the night, when while hacking on that big project at 3 AM, you realise you are hungry and are out of Dorito's and Coke...
  • by Lumpish Scholar (17107) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:45AM (#4156187) Homepage Journal
    The NYT article didn't include a picture, but this page on the Shop 2000 web site [shop2000online.com] does.
  • "The public needs to get used to these kinds of stores, but I think it's inevitable that they will."

    I thought the rule was the market responded to the consumer, that was supposed to be what was so great about a market econonmy. Obviously that is not always the case. Here is an example of the market dictating to the consumer.

    By the way, who are these people who have to buy a DVD at 2am?
  • by Diabolical (2110) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:48AM (#4156206) Homepage
    We had a similar thing almost 10 years ago in the Netherlands. No-one bought anything from the machine. Within 6 months the damn thing was gone. There were all kinds of issues with it, vandalism, malfunctioning equipment, products passed vending date etc.

    I can see the convenience of such a machine but i can't say i like them. Aside from no human interaction there are more things about it that doesn't appeal to me. First of all is that the product range is limited, for some reason alot of products are more expensive then normal store offered ones. And you can't easily get a refund if some product isn't good or past it's vending date.

  • I'm amazed that there is so much interest in live bait vending machines. Take a look at the counter [agthompson.com] at the bottom of the page. Who would have guessed there would be so much traffic for a web site in that industry.

    Looks like I've found my next career move, since IT is down. From the looks of that single page, I'd have to guess that live bait vending must be a multi-billion dollar industry.

    Who knew?
  • by Jippy_ (564603) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @10:48AM (#4156211)
    It's a machine. It's bound to break. It's bound to get jammed.

    "Honey, will you run to the store and pick up some eggs?"

    "I can't, the 7-11's broken again"
  • In a park around my house in the summer time... they have this french fry vending machine which cooks your fries on the spot... can you imagine eating fries made by some greasy machine which has been sitting out in the open for days ? disgusting!
  • I remember seeing this same thing years ago on a replay of a newsreel from the 50's, they had done a whole grocery store like this. I gotta see if I can find it (prior art ;)
  • ...more than a few people are feeding it their cash and credit cards.

    Oh, great. Now I not only have to worry about people stealing my credit card numbers off the Internet or out of the dumpster receipts, I'll be able to stay up nights wondering if someone's stolen the computer out of a vending machine that memorized it.
  • by happyclam (564118) on Wednesday August 28, 2002 @11:52AM (#4156724)

    How about allowing this gizmo to offer pre-ordering via the web? Go to the machine's web site, see the machine's inventory. Purchase your products on a credit card. The products get set aside into a separate compartment for you. You go to the machine, insert your credit card (same one you used to purchase), the products are released to you, and you are charged for them.

    If you need to order something that's not in stock, the machine operator could offer some service level for an additional charge to stock it in the next stocking run.

    Reduces delivery/distribution costs for the vendors while providing additional convenience for the consumers.

    (And why couldn't fast-food places operate like this? Certainly robots can do an equally good job of microwaving and assembling a Big Mac, depositing it into the queue, and then charging your credit card.)

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