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Cupcakes and the ATM sweet spot

3 min read


I remember way back when automated teller machines started to become commonplace, beginning a trend that would have us finding fewer and fewer reasons to stand in line at the bank to make deposits and access our cash.

My bank has safeguards in place to keep me from overdrawing my account at the ATM, but new tellers dispensing baked goods offer no such protections for either wallet or waistline. Cupcake bakery Sprinkles this year began automating the way customers in some markets buy their wares. The company opened its first Cupcake ATM in March in Beverly Hills and said it would open 10 by summer’s end and continue growing the concept around the country.

Vending machines that dispense snacks both sweet and salty are nothing new, but somehow the dispensers that look just like cash machines painted pink seem strange — very sweet, of course, but strange. Maybe because, unlike the bank, people don’t usually mind standing in line at the bakery amid the enticing aroma, shelves full of eye candy and ample free samples for tasting.

Of course, the point of the ATMs isn’t necessarily to winnow the crowds at Sprinkles’ 10 locations so much as it is to make it possible for fans of the cakes to buy them whenever the mood strikes. Indeed, the first locations were set up inside Sprinkles stores but accessible from the outside, according to CNNMoney. While it might be quicker to bypass the in-store line and hit the ATM during business hours, patrons pay $4 per cupcake, 50 cents more than in the store. And yes, you can use your ATM card to buy the $4 cupcakes. You can also use your credit card, but the machines don’t take cash.

Cupcakes have been a hot commodity since the days of “Sex and the City,” and so far it seems that every attempt to call the trend passe has been discounted as consumers continue to clamor for the affordable indulgences, and chains like Sprinkles find new ways to build buzz.

I don’t know about you, but the only time I actually go into the bank anymore is when something goes wrong with the automated system, glitches that apparently can be as common to cupcakes as they are to cash, as Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times discovered recently when he and other patrons found that the Windy City’s new Cupcake ATM was out of order. Instead of dessert, customers got the message that “Sprinkles Cupcake ATM is currently being serviced and is unable to process orders. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

Apparently the machine, made to hold up to 600 cupcakes, is selling about 1,000 per day, Sprinkles spokeswoman Nicole Schwartz told Roeper.

“We believe the combination of continuous transactions — 24 hours a day since Saturday — with the warm, humid weather caused the malfunction.”