Craving a new iPod but the stores are closed? Looking for some acne cream at the airport on short notice? Forget boring old chocolate bars and potato chips - vending machines have gone high-end.
Deluxe vending machines, carrying items from stores such as the Body Shop and Best Buy, have appeared in malls and airports in the United States - and now they are coming to Canada, reportedly by next year.
ZoomSystems, the company that makes the machines, installed their 1,000th unit this month. (Perhaps it was creation by necessity: The company is headquartered in San Francisco, which recently restricted the sale of soda pop in vending machines on city property.)
Of course, you'll need more than dimes and quarters to buy the goods: The machines require the swipe of a credit card. (In case of a frustrating jam, a fail-safe ensures your card isn't charged until the items drops.)
The trend has caught on around the world. In the Netherlands, vending machines sell bread. In Abu Dhabi, they cough up gold bars. In Africa, you can buy electricity credits at a vending machine. Really, there's no limit to what can be stuffed into one these days, from umbrellas and live crabs in Japan, to hot macaroni and cheese in New York.
Speaking of Japan, it recently took the vending machine to a whole new level, introducing one that uses facial recognition to assess a person's age and gender, then recommends a drink accordingly. According to a spokesperson for the company, men prefer canned coffee drinks, while people over 50 would rather sip green tea.
Apparently, customers like to be told just what they're craving: Sales at the facial-recognition machine in a Tokyo train station are triple that of the old-fashioned kind. Maybe that's because, even in these instant-gratification times, we'd all still like a little customer service.