The future of vending machines: Conversational AI and beyond

May 3, 2024
From fostering greater customer convenience and efficiency to providing operators with automatic restocking, the integration of conversational AI and voice recognition technology represents an exciting leap forward for the vending machine industry.

Vending machine technology has come a long way in just a few short years. What were once rudimentary coin-operated machines have morphed into increasingly smarter devices equipped with high-tech features like touchscreen displays, cashless payment capabilities and remote monitoring systems. 
Now, the next evolution is coming with the integration of conversational AI and voice recognition technology. While far from ubiquitous, these AI-enhanced vending machines are starting to move out of trade shows and onto everyday streets where they are providing customers with a new way to engage with vending machines.
What that means exactly for the future of the vending machine industry is hard to say, but there may be a lot of potential for AI to reshape both customer and owner behavior in interesting ways. From fostering greater customer convenience and efficiency to providing operators with automatic restocking, the integration of conversational AI and voice recognition technology represents an exciting leap forward for the vending machine industry.

Enhancing the customer experience

The most immediate benefit to conversational AI is it will allow vending machines to interact with customers on a more personal level. For instance, some manufacturers have begun integrating camera systems with facial recognition technology into their machines. Combine that with conversational AI and you could get a machine that can verbally recommend certain products based on a customer’s facial expression, mood or even past purchasing history.
An example of how that would look might be something like the machine reading that a customer is tired and then saying in a friendly voice, “Hello! You seem like you could use a little boost. How about trying our newest coffee blend?” The vending machine might also recommend energy bars or offer workout tips or nutritional advice, providing customers with added value beyond product sales. These examples can add a whole new dimension to how customers interact with vending machines.
Additionally, voice recognition technology can allow customers to order by voice and minimize contact with buttons. This offers not only a more hygienic way to make vending purchases but also aids those with physical limitations who might struggle with traditional interfaces. These are just a few of the features that could be offered by AI-enhanced vending machines. There are likely numerous other use cases that haven’t even been thought of yet. 

Streamlining management

While enhancing the customer experience is a major benefit of AI, the biggest advantages will be from the operator’s standpoint. Imagine a machine that can autonomously determine when stock will run out due to sales trends, promptly sending automated alerts to the operator to reorder products. This would be a game-changer for inventory management, ensuring a minimum of operational disruptions while also maximizing revenue. The entire reordering process could even be fully automated, with the AI generating a purchase order that the operator simply needs to approve with a click.
Additionally, AI can enable predictive maintenance capabilities, allowing operators to identify and address issues before they escalate into costly problems. This sort of ability is already available through remote monitoring systems, providing operators with access to real-time sales data, machine performance and inventory levels through a simple smartphone app. Adding voice recognition software to these systems will further enhance their functionality, allowing operators to receive maintenance alerts and insights through voice commands.

Cost-benefit considerations

While all these bells and whistles are undoubtedly impressive, operators and manufacturers should exercise caution when assessing whether they justify the expense. From a technical standpoint, the main considerations will be power usage and maintenance. These advanced vending machines will require more power to operate, which may make them nonviable in certain locations. Moreover, as machines become more complex, the likelihood of requiring a dedicated engineer or IT team for troubleshooting increases. If you live in an area that lacks such specialized expertise, repairing malfunctions will be considerably more difficult.
Another consideration is Wi-Fi. Getting the most value out of an AI-enhanced vending machine depends on having a strong and reliable Wi-Fi connection. If the infrastructure to support that is not in place, you’re probably better off sticking with a traditional vending machine. This is going to be the case for a lot of rural areas where broadband is not readily available.
Lastly, vending operators need to consider whether all these advanced AI features will attract or deter their customer base. Some consumers may find a talking vending machine a bit creepy, especially if it’s using their data for personalized messaging and promotions. You also have to think about what's the best use of your dollars, as some AI features can be gimmicks that don’t add much in the way of benefits for operators or consumers. With that in mind, assess your needs, customer base and infrastructure requirements before taking the plunge with AI.

Final thoughts

The evolution of vending machine technology, particularly regarding the integration of conversational AI and voice recognition, makes this an exciting time for vending operators and manufacturers. When properly implemented, these advanced features can provide operators with a competitive advantage, especially on the operational side.

That said, vending operators must carefully weigh the costs and concerns associated with implementing these technologies. These features won’t be suitable for every region. But in places where AI-enhanced vending machines can operate effectively, they offer promising opportunities for increased efficiency and customer satisfaction.



Ben Gaskill is the co-owner and VP of sales of Everest Ice and Water Systems. With over 25 years of experience in sales, sales management and training, Gaskill has a successful background in high-level sales strategies, business development and calling on C-level through end users selling both capital equipment and an extensive product line. 


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