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Patch Picks: Five Things I'd Like to See in Vending Machines

Self-service is the new industry standard, so here’s a few suggestions for retailers.

So many places now offer self-checkout options that it’s becoming a new standard to simply help yourself. I’m sure that nearly everyone has experienced the liberation -- and perhaps just as notably, the frustrations -- of self-service. These days, it’s all about helping ourselves.

According to Business Week, self-checkout at retail and grocery stores accounted for $1.39 billion in sales in 2010, which is leading to a boom in the industry. But helping ourselves has always been at least a small part of retail, mostly thanks to the invention of the vending machine.

As it is, we’ve got vending machines for snack foods, for candy, for soda, for lottery tickets, for gift cards, for sandwiches, and for coffee. Back in the day, there used to be cigarette machines. We can even buy Aspirin in tiny single-serve packs from vending machines -- and don’t even get me started on the type you see in seedy bar bathrooms.

Redbox, the DVD vending machine, is helping to put traditional video rental stores out of business, and this summer we can even look forward to PRONTO, the wine vending machines stores around the state.

Dog licenses, newspapers, gumballs, toys, temporary tattoos, ATMs… the list goes on and on. All of this progressive sales technology got me to thinking about other things I’d like to see in vending machines, so this week’s list is dedicated to self-service.

Inventors, get inventing! Retailers, get retailing!

1. Beer: This one is pretty obvious. As mentioned, we now have wine vending machines, so why not one that vends beer? They’re already doing it in Japan and in Europe. Stick in a buck, get a Bud. You can already buy a single can or bottle of beer at , so it’s only a short hop to a machine that does it for us.

2. Contracts: This one may sound weird, but stay with me here. Many moons ago, I worked at a . People were constantly coming in for renter’s agreements, lease contracts, liens, living wills, etc. These customers were looking for a way to get boilerplate contracts without having to pay a lawyer through the nose to draw them up. Problem is, even at a retail store, these contracts come in a big bundle with multiple copies and instructions and a lot of unnecessary extras (so they can charge more).

Here’s the idea: swipe a card, get a contract printed on the spot. Heck, you could even type in the appropriate parties’ names and get them printed right on your contract. While we’re at it, let’s get a notary vending machine too.

3. Jewelry: I hate shopping for jewelry, but as a man, I understand that it’s one of those necessary expenditures to show my love (sorry ladies, but that’s the way we look at it). Whenever I go to the jewelry store, I get some salesperson working on commission who tries to harangue me into a more expensive piece, or matching earrings, or a pricey insurance agreement.

Besides, vending machines already have fake rings and jewelry. Let’s make one that has the real thing. Choose a type, style, gem, size, swipe the credit card -- bada-bing -- birthday/Christmas/anniversary is in the bag!

4. Tattoos: I recently read an article about a fellow who has invented a tattooing machine. That is to say, a machine that can automatically draw a design without human interference. Problem is, right now the machine is in early stages and the drawings are simple at best and very limited.

That being said, it’s only a matter of time before they perfect such a machine. So why not put one up in the mall? Totally automated self-service tattoos. Choose your design, sit in a chair and get inked. Human error eliminated. (Poor judgment, however, is not.)

5. Fast Food: How many times do you go to or and order the same thing, again and again? Maybe you change up the sandwich every now and then, but it’s always fries and a Coke (or what-have-you).

So how about we get those fast-food employees, who, let’s face it, are not always the most pleasant people, to build our burgers assembly-line style, pack ‘em into the machine, and we can order right from a friendly computer interface? Pick a meal, a side, a drink, and be on your merry way.

I hereby allow any and all persons or companies who would like to steal these ideas to do so, and immediately, please. Just promise to give me a shout out at your first press conference when your new vending machine line takes off. 

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