Vending Psychology

Vending hinges on impulse. That fraction of a second where you grab your customer’s attention, convince them you have what they want, then give it to them. You profit because you have satisfied them without them really thinking. This is crucial, as most people can think of lots of ways to better satisfy their needs than with the machine before them, and though convenience is good, it’s hardly an argument. So, you have to get past this and straight to the vend without much thought on your customer’s part. Thanks to decades of commercial consumerism, people will lock onto something and want it- all you have to do is give them that extra push. Here’s how:

Keep your equipment clean and good looking

No brainier right? While I like to think everyone out there is treating their machines like classic muscle cars in a show garage, we all know keeping machines looking really good gets pushed to the wayside sometimes. For bigger routes, and some machines, the task is a steep one. Make a note to clean your machines down each time you service. Dust, dirt, debris, and spilled candy aren’t the most unsightly things, but something to consider. Your customer is looking for a snack and spies your machine. In that instant, their brain will evaluate the situation on a subconscious level if it’s a good idea or a bad idea. If your machine is clean and well maintained, they will pick up on that on a subconscious level, and that will increase your odds of getting their quarter. Now, not every machine can be kept immaculate all the time, but little things will help you in the long run.

Keep your machines “almost” filled.

Now, you may think this is a little strange- “Alex, why on earth would I only fill the canister ¾ of the way? If I fill it up it looks great, and my service times can be extended!” you may ask. Well, here’s why- ancient psychology. Humans carry a lot of “old” behavioral characteristics that we’ve had since our hunter/gatherer days. One of these that applies to you is one of food safety. Groups of people who see food that is untouched think that something is wrong with it. Strange, but true. It is thought to be an instinct to avoid things other animals didn’t eat long ago. This works at a subconscious level, so there’s no conscious way to beat this. Only adapt and work with it. By dropping your candy levels down some, people will see it and “think” (again, subconsciously) “others have eaten this, so it must be okay.” and you have another vend. I’ve experimented with this a little, and it works every time. I’ve found if you leave a little gap in the top, about an inch, so they can see the top layer of candy, they are much more likely to go for it.

As far as I know there isn’t a good way to apply this with toys. Since the customer isn’t eating them (hopefully) this rule doesn’t come into effect. I have heard that intentionally lowering the amount in one head of a rack can cause a sales spike if it’s thought to be a “hot” product, but I’ve yet to experience this.

Put the products you want to sell first on the left, the expensive ones in the center on triples.

So, you have a triple, and your candies all set to go. Which candies do you put in which canister. For most guys, it depends on if they can save a buck by matching the candy with a label that might already be on the machine, or whatever they choose on a whim. However, after some experimenting with as many fixed variables as possible, here’s what I discovered:

Candy Sales by cannister Candy 1 Candy 2 Candy 3
Left $4.25 (week 1) $5.25 (week 3) $6.25 (week 2)
Center $2.25 (week 2) $3.75 (week 1) $4.25 (week 3)
Right $3.50 (week 3) $3.75 (week 2) $4.50 (week 1)
Total pulls in Performa Vending Machine 004 in a fixed location. Product changed weekly for 3 weeks. Machine: Routemaster Triple.

Now, what does this graph even mean? Well, the only variable that changed in this experiment was which canisters held the candy. I dutifully changed labels, readjusted wheels, and refilled the machine after each weekly service to come to this conclusion. As you can see, the left canister has more vends, while the center has the least on average, with only one tie in this. There’s more than one piece of psychology at work here, so let’s dive in.

First, why is the left canister so “good”? If you are in an English Speaking country, or any country that reads from right to left, then that’s why. People scan objects with their eyes from left to right out of habit and reinforcement. That’s how the world works. For this reason, the first cannister your customer sees is very likely the left canister. Using the impulse buy mentioned earlier, the customer may have already decided that candy 1 looks awfully good right now. All thing being equal, they go for the path of least resistance, and this is what they saw first. This does have a counter-argument that the right side will receive more vends, as most people are right handed. Though the debate still rages on, this did not hold up in my testing.

Next, why is the center a deal-breaker? Well, that’s thanks to modern advertising techniques. The center is the “showcase” of the machine, the “main event” if you will. People see the center canister, and immediately think it must be more expensive through psychological reinforcement. Go to any store, and look for the item in the middle of their displays- odds are good it’s the most expensive thing. It’s common to showcase the expensive thing, as this draws people in, but not necessarily to buy. In the case of vending machines, people may think that they get less candy, or simply that it’s “more expensive”. For some this may never cross their subconscious, and for others it may be a determining factor in their candy buys. Though a good product will serve you better than some psychology here, why not configure your new machines for success. By placing your most expensive candy in the center, you play into this psychology and can use it to your benefit. Some people want what’s showcased, and buy accordingly. Again, it’s all in the subconscious. Place your more profitable candy on the left and boost it’s chances of making you more money.


We’ve discussed this here on before how important it is to label what you sell.  You use what huge companies have built to sell your products. Not to sound like a broken record, but remember to label your products! People see familiar branding, and their minds will immediately recognize and react to this. Hopefully by buying your products.

Now, these tips won’t fix a broken vending route, and they won’t break one either. In the end, they are ways you can use a subtle psychological edge to drive more sales in your vending machines. No “formal” research has ever confirmed what works best, but these are the ones I’ve treid and had some success with. I hope to revisit this phenomenon later this year in an even more controlled environment to find more answers.

Until next time, Good Luck!


  1. […] as shown in Vending Psychology (HERE), the little things can make a world of difference in how your machines perform. Displays are just […]

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