Owners and managers of 35 USConnect affiliate companies were in attendance.
USConnect hosted a Technology Forum, "Connecting with the Consumer," at their summer meeting in Baltimore. The moderator was Jeff Whitacre, CEO of USConnect. The panel consisted of leaders in the vending technology realm, Anant Agrawal from Cantaloupe Systems, Brendan Kehoe from Crane/Streamware, Jim English from Sprout Retail, Mike Lawlor from USATechnologies, Elyssa Allahyar from Avanti Markets, David Grano from VendScreen and Brian Faley from USG.
The discussion centered on how all the existing and emerging technologies can be integrated as well as how the technologies will adjust to new regulations such as EMV. With the imminent demise of the AT&T 2G telephone network, what are the plans for continued telemetry operations? Some of the newer providers began their roll-out on the CDMA network or 3G networks, so they will not be affected. Machines currently using the AT&T 2G network may migrate seamlessly to other carriers, but some machines may be adversely affected and need new hardware. A real consensus built around the need for cashless vending as well as the preparation for the acceptance of mobile phone payments. No clear direction has been established to-date regarding NFC or other forms of mobile payment, but as society moves towards cashless commerce, the vending industry needs to be prepared. Touch screens on vending machines will enhance the opportunity to run promotions and as they evolve, vending may be able to monetize the concept. It appears that major brand companies are very interested in end-consumer promotions, which can only ride on the rails of loyalty cards for consumer identification.
The key discussion centered on, how do vending, micro markets and other points of service, engage the consumer and build an on-going relationship that allows for individualized direct marketing and a more pleasant consumer experience. In order to increase the average transaction rate and increase the frequency of use by consumers, the USConnect Rewards Card has been launched and all the participants discussed how their hardware and software will integrate seamlessly. Jim English explained that the USConnect card can now be used nationwide at USConnect machines as well as at micro markets that have adopted the USConnect card as their loyalty card platform, and at dining facilities. Client locations around the country have adopted the USConnect card platform to not only allow their employees to purchase food, snacks and beverages, but also provide building access, bicycle rentals and company fitness center access. By linking the USConnect card with the employer payroll system via payroll deduction, employees can chose pre-paid or post-paid vending and market services resulting in substantial usage increases, thereby increasing employee productivity by keeping employees on site.
The forum demonstrated a coming together of the industry to build systems to house and operate a retail model and convert the vending industry to a business of consumer engagement and satisfaction.
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