RFID technology is not new to coffee brewers. It has been used to ensure the proper timing brewing functions in some machines. Some equipment experts argue that this has been technology’s most important contribution to OCS, as it ensures a level of product quality.
The most extensive testing involving RFID technology for cashless purchases and remote data retrieval in OCS equipment has been the Starbucks “E-Cup.”
Starbucks Corp. has adapted USA Technologies’ ePort to its proprietary single-cup brewer, the “I-Cup,” to include cashless transaction capability. The ePort converts the traditional Starbucks “I-Cup” into an “E-Cup.” The E-Cup comes with an ePort card reader that accepts both magnetic stripe and contactless cards. All of the ePorts are connected to the USA Technologies network, via the AT&T GSM network, where the credit and debit card transactions are processed.
OPERATORS CAN VIEW ACTIVITY VIA A SECURE WEBSITE
The Starbucks “E-Cup” operates similar to vending machines with ePort connectivity. The USALive network operated by USA Technologies is a secure Web portal. It allows authorized vending operators and coffee service providers participating in the Starbucks E-Cup program to view the sales activity and review transactions for any and all machines by any time frame the user selects.
A sales and accounting summary allows the user to see all sales activity, including cash total, refunds total and grand total. The user can save and print any report in addition to receiving data in various electronic formats.
USA Technologies also handles the processing of credit card purchases for the operator.
Pat Ballard, director of OCS for Starbucks, said the E-Cup brewer accepts both swipe and contactless credit and debit cards. It does not accept cash or Starbucks cards, although consideration is being given to the latter.
The E-Cup brewer will appeal to locations that want to offer cashless capability. “There will never be a lost sales opportunity,” Ballard said.
Ballard said location managers might opt to allow some selections to be free and others to require payment. Or they may wish to allow the employees to get coffee for free but require customers to pay for it.
Ballard said Starbucks will not have access to the individual operator’s proprietary Website. “We (Starbucks) don’t have a direct link to that,” he said.
DATA COULD PROVIDE MARKETING, SERVICE INFORMATION
Mike Lawlor, vice president of sales and business development at USA Technologies, said the transaction data that the operator gets will assist in determining what products to offer. He said many operators will get a better understanding of what products sell best at what time of day.
Ballard said operators will also know the optimum time to service the machine. “They will be able to track when they should have service technicians in the area and when they should refill the brewer,” he said.
The end result, according to Ballard, is OCS operators will be able to provide more single-cup machines to more locations.
OTHER MANUFACTURERS EXPLORE TECHNOLOGY
VEI Global Solutions LLC has demonstrated its Prosyd (formerly Progema) brewer with RFID functionality. Aviel Dafna, a company partner, said the system benefits both the end user, in that it allows cashless transactions, and the operator, since it allows remote monitoring of inventory in the machine and can control access to the dispensing mechanism.
Dafna said the machine can be programmed to dispense product at the swipe of an RFID tag. The system also reports SKU level consumption data. It can also allow the operator to verify what product was put in the machine.
The benefits aren’t limited to the OCS operator or the location manager, Dafna noted. The verification capability and market intelligence will be useful to coffee suppliers who want to be more active in the growing OCS market. The ability to verify product use could encourage roasters to subsidize machine placements, Dafna said. In addition, machine-level transaction data could provide market intelligence that roasters could use in developing marketing programs.
Tim Wayne, director of sales for Folgers OCS for the J.M. Smucker Co., has seen the RFID in action in a Prosyd machine and said the unit can be programmed to only brew specially tagged containers. This, he said, can assure customer compliance with product usage agreements.