When you think of wacky vending machines, Japan is usually the country that comes to mind. However, Hong Kong does have some machines that are out of the ordinary.
Lets start with this machine stocked with soft drinks: nothing odd to see here other than a few iced teas. Bonaqua is a brand of Swire Coca-Cola HK Limited, who also hold the franchise to manufacture, market and distribute products of The Coca-Cola Company in Hong Kong – you can just see some Coke cans on the bottom row.
Slightly stranger is the next vending machine: the top row holds iced teas and bottled water, while the rest of the machine is stocked with small cardboard boxes containing t-shirts.
This machine would have to be a target for thieves, being stocked with a large selection of Canon printer ink cartridges. With 30 different product lines available and an average price of around US$20 per unit, if there are 5 of each line stocked, the total value of the contents is US$3000.
On you way to work you might realise that you left your umbrella at home: this vending machine solves that problem for you. The display area goes into quite a great deal of detail as to the quality of the products on offer: I would have assumed that on a rainy day you could sell any old piece of junk as an umbrella and people would still buy them!
The final machine today is one selling iPhone covers: given that Hong Kong is full of street markets selling mobile phone covers I’m surprised that anyone would bother using a vending machine to buy one.
You might have noticed that each of the vending machines above has a Octopus card reader on the front: it allows customers to pay for their purchase using the same smartcard they use to catch the train, bus or ferry. The technology might save you from the need to fumble with a wallet full of coins, but the user interface leaves something to be desired.
So how many steps does it take to buy a drink?
Step 1: check the price of the item you want.
Step 2: push the buttons on the Octopus reader until it displays the price of your desired item.
Step 3: swipe your Octopus card on the reader.
Step 4: push the item selection button on the machine itself.
Step 5: wait for the item it come out.
Protip: failure to follow the instructions will result in a few minutes of thinking “the bastard machine took my money”.
The first time I went to buy a drink I started by swiping my Octopus card then making a drink selection. I wasn’t able to get the drink I wanted because the amount of money the machine deducted from my card was less than the item I wanted: I had missed steps 1 and 2.
A second flaw to the machine is seen when the machine is out of stock of your desired item: once you have scanned you Octopus card you can’t get a refund, so you either lose your money, or need to pick something else to use up your credit.
Strange. When I use the machine, we just press the button for the item we want, then swipe the card and that works just as well. It also has the bonus of telling us the item is sold out if there isn’t any stock in the machine.
I’m guessing the newer machines has Octopus card readers with two-way communication, allowing the the vending machine to tell them how much to charge. The reader in the ‘dumb’ machine I encountered must only tell the vending machine that value ‘x’ was paid.
It may well be but the machines look the same as the ones we used, so there isn’t any external differences AFAIK. The Octopus reader even still had the add value buttons. I’m not sure. I’ll check again the next time I’m over.
I would like to issue a correction since I’m here on family business and had another chance to look at the machines again. Indeed you do need to indicate how much the item is before paying for it via Octopus. However machines which lack the buttons and have two way communication between the machine and card reader.
…”do exist…” I should’ve said.
Huh, last time when i was up in Hong Kong there was a Vending machine at the Tseung Kwan O Cemetery. If i remember the machine was loaded with Chips, M&Ms, Maltesers and Light bulbs. Talk about multi-purpose
Selling incense at a cemetery might make sense – but light bulbs? Can’t you visit the shop on the way home?