Vending Machines in Japan: The Next Marketing Tool?

You are rushing to get your train but want to grab a drink before getting on. Next thing you will probably do is heading to the “kiosk” or the vending machines. In the Netherlands, for a small amount we can easily get a drink or a candy bar from the vending machines at the stations. However, in Japan, the vending machine is much more than that.

Vending Machines in Japan
At first glance, the vending machines are not that different than the ones we are used to. You put coins in the machines and you will get the product that you have selected. However, what makes them remarkable is that there are a bunch of them in Japan. It is estimated that there is about 5.52 million vending machines in Japan, which is even more than the total population of New Zealand (Jnto, 2015).
The vending machines in Japan also include bizarre contents which makes it unique: hot meals, fresh lettuce, cup noodles, flowers, umbrellas and even used underwear. You name it, they have it!

Next-generation vending machines
Vending machines has been already for over 50 years in Japan. However, technology is the key behind that keeps it evolving. For instance, there are vending machines with solar panels and touch panels that can sense the demographic of the customer. This allows the machine to suggest a drink on the display (Ryall, 2010). This is just a small example as there are tons of new features that could be added by companies to make a better user experience.
Recently, the company Kirin even implemented a selfie feature in their vending machine. The vending machine is fitted with a large LCD display and camera. The idea is that you can take a free selfie and share it with your friends through Line, a popular smartphone-messaging app in Japan. The service will be only offered free for those who buy a drink (Ashcraft, 2015). This is definitely a fun and exciting experience for customers. However, in my opinion there are lots of implications and potential in this Selfie Vending Machine. There could be branded backgrounds and localized digital content right there in images with you. Or when the Vending machine is not in use, the display can also show advertisements for products.


Japan is famous for its vending machines. However, it is not just the sheer number that exists in the country what makes it fascinating, but how they make these machines their own in a unique way. In combination of Technology, they keep improving their vending machines and create a better user experience for customers. There is huge potential in these vending machines and seems to unlock new ways of branding. So what do you think? Would we be able to improve our vending machines like the ones in Japan?


Ashcraft, B. (2015) ‘Japanese Vending Machines Now Taking Selfies’,, October 8, 2015.

JNTO(2015) ‘Vending Machines’ ,, 2015.

Ryall, J. (2010) ‘Japanese vending machine tells you what you should drink’,, November 16, 2010.


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9 responses to “Vending Machines in Japan: The Next Marketing Tool?”

  1. 358516rr says :

    Nice article! I think it is typical that Japan is a leading country in these kind of innovations. A lot of people in Japan make such long hours at their jobs, I think that is why new time-saving technologies such as these often originate from Japan and other Asian countries.

    Another example of this can be found in South-Korea. The company Tesco noticed that South-Koreans are very busy people who don’t have a lot of time on their hands. This makes shopping for groceries an annoying tasks for a lot of Korean citizens. To help them save time, Tesco introduced Virtual Shopping at train stations.

    The goal of the virtual stores is to bring the supermarket to the consumer at a place they are most likely to be: the subway! At the subway, Tesco put up digital storefronts showing the products they have on offer. All these product feature a QR-code that can be scanned with an app. When you scan the QR-code, the product get’s added to your basket. Next, users can pay through the app and get their groceries delivered to their homes.

    Check out this video to see it in action:


    I think the Tesco Virtual Stores are trying to solve the same problem as your vending machines. I think that we will see these kind of innovations in Europe as well in a couple of years, although the demand for it is not as large as in Japan or South-Korea. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a fully digital Albert Heijn in the near future.

  2. colinvanlieshout says :

    Interesting article! I was in Tokyo a couple of years ago and I actually didn’t do any research before I went there, so you can probably imagine that I was very surprised by how many vending machines there were. As a person interested in the business aspect of things, a immediately wondered how this could be beneficial. What turns out, it is mostly a way of pushing a product and PR; shops want to be able to sell their product everywhere in the city, even at places without personnel and then a vending machine is ideal.

    Interesting fact, vending machines actually origin from the unattended food stalls which can sometimes be found in the country side, were people buy food and just leave the cash on the desk. Vending machines are possible due to the low rates in crime in Japan.


  3. 371392nb says :

    Although at first sight I agree, there’s lots of potential here. A few years ago I was in Croatia (!), and I saw a pizza vending machine, which was the first time I’ve ever heard of it and of course I thought this was the best invention ever. Seeing this video on YouTube:, you see that it’s been a long time since this has been invented. However, although the idea sounds amazing to me, I still have not seen it in the Netherlands or anywhere else.

    I think the main drawback for these types of vending machines is the customers’ perception of the quality of the items it sells. Would you actually believe the pizza out of the vending machine will be great? Or how long has that bucket of noodles been behind that glass?

    So I agree that vending machines offer way more opportunities than we think, but when it comes to assessing the quality of the goods sold, customers have to be convinced in order to have success.

  4. 357457tg says :

    Interesting article! I believe that vending machine make processes a lot faster in several domains. In busy places like airports or train stations, where people sometimes don’t have a lot of time to spare, buying something (e.g., snack, pillow…) through a vending machine would be a lot faster than having to enter a shop, look for your product and finally interact with a salesman before leaving.

    I also think that vending machines could be implemented in stores. The idea would be to display all available items in the store for people to try and see, and when the decision has been made to purchase a product, they would proceed to a vending machine, select their product, pay and finally receive their prepackaged product. This could be implemented in all types of stores in order to speed up the buying process.

    However, implementing such vending machines inside stores would also mean getting rid of cashiers whose task would be replaced. This could lead to major opposition from unions who will probably be an obstacle to expansion (understandably so?).

  5. 358591jk says :

    Interesting blog about the Vending industry!
    The vending machines, we see it everywhere but most common off course at the train stations, break rooms and shopping malls. Normally we have the vending machine with the canned beverages and snacks.

    Last year I saw one in the Netherlands that offers hot fries. The question arise, why buying fries from a machine instead of the many fast food restaurants? According to Bastiaan Roest, one of the designers of the hot fries machine said in a statement: “Caterers and bar and restaurant owners see the machine as a way to retain or increase their turnover. Public transport companies see the machine as a way to make waiting less annoying. For various budget hotels, it is a way to offer a service to their consumers 24/7.” I personally have concerns about the quality of the product and rather consume a fries at a fast food restaurant.

  6. maikelooms says :

    Thanks for article, I had no idea vending machines were so huge in Japan (and how could I, I’ve never been there). I think this is a great example of how you can combine a slightly older technology with a new one to create new value for its customers.

    I could also imagine them going further to a ‘bonus card’ system where the japanse consumers get rewarded for making multiple purchases. It would also be a great way for the company to gain better insight of its customers and their purchasing habits.

    I personally wouldn’t mind having some fancier vending machines in the netherlands, were old broken down machines are a more common sight.

  7. tlangenberg says :

    Thanks for the interesting blog! I do think that vending machines offer a lot of opportunities and that Japan is one of the leading countries. However, as mentioned in some other quotes, I think the perception of vending machines is rather different in the Netherlands. But besides a marketing machine, I think it’s still possible to increase revenues by connecting all machines to the internet. Since consumers’ willingness to pay differes from time to time, why isn’t it possible to include this into the vending machines?! For instance, when it’s 30 degree (C) people are willing to pay more for an ice cold can of Coke right. So besides marketing opportunities, I think the vending machines offer some great sales opportunities as well.

  8. 329761 says :

    This is a very interesting development that is happening here. You don’t need to go to a kiosk anymore, but you just go to a machine. These vending machines on the other hand are also improving. The strange thing however about these machines in Japan is that the response is directly. If you look at developments in Korea or even more nearby at Heathrow airport. At those place you can go to a digital vending machine, you select what you want and it will be delivered at your door at the desired time. So if you get back from your long holidays, your refrigerator will be emptied out probably before you leave. So instead of having to carry all the groceries you need to buy when you get back, in London now you can select what you want and it will be delivered at your place when you come back from your flight. So I think that, buying it at one moment and having it the delivered later will be the future.


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