If the machines offer consumers more convenience, they offer retailers higher profit margins. Mall retailers generate $330 per square foot on average while airport retailers average about $1,000 per square foot, according to ZoomSystems, a leading manufacturer of the machines based in San Francisco. Automated retail machines, by contrast, can earn between $3,000 and $10,000 a square foot and between $4,000 and $40,000 a square foot in airports.
Room for plenty of growth
The industry has a lot of room for growth, if Japan is any indication. The United States currently has 400,000 self-service kiosks, according to the Self-Service & Kiosk Association, based in Louisville, Ky. That works out to about 1 machine for every 750 Americans. In Japan, there is 1 vending machine for every 23 people, according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association.
"They use vending machines for everything," says David Drain, executive director of the Self-Service & Kiosk Association. "They can buy a train ticket or a Coke with a mobile phone and all of it is a 24-hour service."