I have two different early stage ideas involving retailing via vending machines. The idea being a more scalable retail concept than traditional retailing. I've reached out to some vendors and are unimpressed with their out of the box offerings. Can anyone recommend any vendors in this space? I've seen more flexible options in Europe/Japan, but again, not sure of who makes them.
Also love to hear anyone general insights on the vending retail model as it seems like the US is behind the curve.
The USA is not" behind the curve" in vending machine businesses. It just isn't necessary. There is no great demand for it. There are many reasons ( e.g., economic, societal , cultural, urban planning, etc.) it isn't right for the country the way it works in Japan.
Automated retail is very much culturally driven. The US never developed a habit because space isn't generally a concern, a lot of what drove the vending machine model in crowded cityscapes like Tokyo. Plus we're not nearly as in love with robots. Generally people don't even prefer the self-checkouts at grocery and drug stores. Americans are so accustomed to being waited on and having a person to complain to it's difficult to imagine a growing willingness to let a machine sell you stuff. Sure you see some of the advanced vending units in airports and once in a while in a department store (like the Apple accessory sales unit). We don't even generally like picking up our dry cleaning from an automated service unit, lack of trust. And it's almost totally foreign to spend more than a couple dollars in a vending machine in this country.
On the flip side, what you don't see in other countries that is pervasive here is package delivery. You don't have a swarm of restaurant deliveries, Amazon packages, groceries drop off, or catalog/mail order of any kind. People don't pay in advance, they pay on delivery (C.O.D.), and often refuse delivery if they don't like it when they see it. It's a cultural difference. Think about how almost no one uses QR codes in the U.S. but they're used by the majority of city dwellers in Japan. Not everything is a good idea for every location.
So while I support your effort to learn more about automated vending machine options built in other countries, anything more than a soda machine in the U.S. is likely to be a tough sell to potential users. Know your market. There's a reason why you don't see more vending options in the U.S. Consumers aren't interested.