Have you used an “automated retail kiosk” lately? 

They’re found everywhere – in hospital waiting rooms, public restrooms, airports, company breakrooms and a host of other spots.

Yes, I’m talking about vending machines, and as I searched the internet, I discovered that I could purchase almost anything from a machine.

As is typically the case, I started down one road and found myself taking one turn after another as I learned more and more about those automated retail kiosks. It all began with a host of TV commercials and online ads for a company that touts its car vending machines in 21 U.S. cities. I was fascinated and had to learn more.

The entire buying process for the company’s used cars takes place online. I can launch a virtual test drive, review the vehicle’s history, secure financing, pay for the car, and either have it delivered or pick it up at a vending machine. It was amazing.

The main advantage of this – and all vending machines, for that matter – is convenience. Moreover, they don’t require employees or a storefront which translates into very low overhead. This is where my road took a predictable turn as I wondered what else I could buy from a vending machine. Little did I know, those automated retail kiosks are literally everywhere – especially Japan.

The website Japan-Guide.com writes, “With one vending machine per an estimated 40 people, Japan has one of the world’s highest vending machine densities. Machines can be found all over cities, towns, and even in the countryside. Almost none of them are vandalized or otherwise non-functional.” Apparently, these machines sell everything from beverages and hot meals to toilet paper. 

So, what all can I purchase from a vending machine?

If I had a hankerin’ for caviar, there’s a machine for that in Beverly Hills, and in China, I can purchase live crabs. In Vegas, I can catch a live lobster with the vending machine’s claw apparatus that the restaurant then cooks for me. 

I can buy bananas, lettuce, bread in a can, beer and sake, eggs, rice in Japanese machines. Moscow has a burger vending machine, and Australia boasts a French fries machine that “flash fries” frozen potatoes inside the device. The Paris baguette dispenser uses partially baked bread and finishes the process upon purchase.

In some places, there are whole automated restaurants. In Portland, my musician pals could pick up guitar picks and drumsticks. For bicyclists in Brooklyn, a vending machine dispenses bike parts and can air up tires, too. Lego machines have boxes of Lego building projects. Hong Kong has umbrella machines through its city, and South Korea sports a machine for socks. Flip flops are available in many countries including Australia, Indonesia, and countries throughout Europe.

I found that I could buy a wealth of products from vending machines: jeans, underwear, jewelry, makeup, baby products, T-shirts, batteries, bouquets, and face masks to stave off germs from my incessant coughing.

One of my favorites, though, was a vending machine in Istanbul that provides water and pet food for strays. An individual need only insert an empty plastic water bottle (love the recycling) and the food is dispensed in a tray at the bottom.

That’s genius …

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