Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Vending Machine Voting

Get what you want, instead of lame "snacks" nobody eats.
 
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Office (or residence hall) scene:

"Hey, Patrick, did you see that the vending machine has three slots filled with Kit-Kats?"

"Yeah, sure... Vikky loves those little buggers... she always empties the machine of them. The guy refilling it knows that the Kit-Kats sell well here so he stocks extra. Or maybe he just likes her, and this is how he shows it."

Have you ever had 65 cents (or pence) to spend at the nearest vending machine but were faced with an underwhelming array of Lime Twizzlers, Gummi Bears, and Nutrigrain Tree Bark Bars? Who stocks those machines? And how do they not notice that chocolate snacks out-sell dried fruit and generic potato chips by at least 3:1?

This vending machine tracks the purchasing preferences of the machine users and automatically places a refill order, via a wireless link, at Vending HQ. No more rows of Cool Ranch Doritos languishing for weeks in slot B-6 while the cheddar Sun Chips are gone in two days.

Potential difficulties: 1) Tyranny of the majority, where the contents are dictated by a domineering few users within the office. Maybe only half of the slots are subject to voting, while the other half are subject the normal, capricious assortment of snacks found in machines. So the whimsical cravings can be satisfied along with the predictable. 2) Reliability of the wireless ordering mechanism. Perhaps the machine stocker simply reads a receipt of all the purchases printed when he opens the machine, which neatly summarizes the sales (and speed of sales) of each of the items. Then he knows what to get from the supply truck.

Of course, different offices will prefer different combinations of snack items-- a whole new subject of social anthropology.

werdna, Apr 05 2004

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       It is a good idea, but I think it supports unhealthy eating habits. If you know that the vending machine is most likely to be out of that snack you usualy crave for in between meals, you won't bother walking up to the machine and end up stuffing your face with whatever else there is.   

       But the idea is good, and eating habits are each one's responsibility so I'm giving you a croissant, just in case the vending machine you have access to is out.
Pericles, Apr 05 2004
  

       <Pericles> Just eat whatever you feel is healthy... the idea is that the operator will know what people who use _that machine_ like to eat. For example, I'm sure that the employees of a bicycle shop will have different eating habits than an office full of video game testers... why not reflect these dispositions in the machine's contents?   

       <Toadinnov> While I'm sure vending companies track purchases on the aggregate-- like how many thousands of cases of Vanilla Coke to buy-- I doubt that it is done on a machine-by-machine basis, which is the crux of this idea. If they track purchases that finely, then I stand corrected and concede bakedness.
werdna, Apr 06 2004
  

       [werdna] I work for a company that has 100Ks of vending machines worldwide. Your vanilla coke sales are tracked on a machine by machine basis and some by hour.   

       Vendselects (as they are called) are calculated on a space to sales (volumes and profits) basis but unlike supermarket shelves, they have to be in discreet numbers of vending slots. This will always mean that in any vending machine, some products are slightly over- and some products slightly under-represented. Those underrepresented will often result in OOS (Out of Stocks) and therefore bring discord to the customer.   

       Wireless telemetry such as that you describe is well underway in my company and indeed in many others worldwide. It represents one of the apexes of the vending business - the perfectly stocked, perfectly refilled machine. In this sense, your idea is baked, but I can't provide linked evidence since it's all internal intellectual property.   

       [the other apex of vending, for those mad enough to have read this far, is how to encourage vending traffic, specifically those not originally intending to purchase]
jonthegeologist, Apr 06 2004
  

       //bring discord to the customer// It should also register tilts, punches and kicks.
FarmerJohn, Apr 06 2004
  

       The machine at my work has a very simple system it only gets refilled when empty therefore all products are equally popular, even the ones that are only bought to force a machine restock.
engineer1, Apr 07 2004
  

       [engineer] course, it costs money to fill a vending machine so a vending company has a fine balance to work out : costs of filling machine v. lost sales from the OOS.   

       One or two lines out is just fine ... beyond that, the company loses money.
jonthegeologist, Apr 07 2004
  

       Thanks for the good annotations. Although it seems that this idea is baked-- in theory, at least-- you truly could have fooled me with the machines I have used. So, at least in my small corner of NYC, there is still room for market growth by smart-vending-machine makers, such as described by <Toad> and <jtg>.   

       Too bad "just-in-time" logistics aren't applied to vending machines (yet). I'd love to see the stock guy leaving the vending room as I enter, having just refilled the machine with Peanut M&Ms in time for my 4PM snack.
werdna, Apr 08 2004
  

       [werdna] just in time logistics are strongly applied to the vending industry ... it's just about the only way that money can be made.
jonthegeologist, Apr 08 2004
  
      
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