When micro markets were introduced to the industry, public locations were not feasible options for unattended retail operators. Micro markets were initially conceived for closed environments such as office break rooms to give employees a wider selection of healthy snack and meal options than what was traditionally offered through a vending machine. Blurring the lines between vending, foodservice and convenience stores (c-stores), micro markets were ideal for midsize to large office environments as they eliminated the need for workers to leave the building for meals.
Over the years, advances in technology enabled operators to expand beyond this original scope. Today, operators have found ways to make markets in smaller locations profitable, thanks to compact, affordable point-of-sale systems and streamlined fixtures that can display a wide variety of products in tight spaces. 365 Retail Markets addressed this growing need with the 2017 launch of the 365 nanomarket™, a tablet-based self-checkout kiosk specifically designed for smaller micro market locations or as an additional checkout point for micro markets.
“365 is always striving to lead the industry with the best technology and service,” explained Joe Hessling, Founder and CEO of 365 Retail Markets. "Our nanomarket has gone from launching in 2017 to our second bestselling product in 2019.”
While innovations such as 365’s nanomarket allowed operators to expand into smaller micro market locations, operators are constantly threatened by other foodservice competitors, such as meal delivery services, app-based payments/pickup options from restaurants and the proliferation of fresh food and meals offered in c-stores. In order to effectively combat these competitors, operators are turning to a new area of service: semi-public spaces.
“Competition from convenience stores is forcing some micro market providers to reinvent the ambiance and décor of a break room or public access area into a more inviting and entertaining venue featuring fresh foods and local signature product promotions,” explained Michael Kasavana, NAMA endowed professor emeritus and hospitality business consultant.
365 continues to lead the industry in providing solutions for public and semi-public unattended retail spaces. At the 2019 NAMA Show earlier this year, 365 presented a preview of its forthcoming PicoMarket, the company’s smallest and most versatile technology that can be installed on a vending machine or cooler in any semi-public environment.
“We have been working diligently on the PicoMarket, which is the perfect fit for operators that want to be on one backend system throughout all of their locations, big or small,” Hessling said. “The PicoMarket can be utilized as a standalone point of sale as part of the 365 connected campus setting or simply placed on individual vending machines or coolers.”
Ryan McWhirter, 365’s Director of Product, said that the PicoMarket is unique as it serves as both a point-of-sale device and a security tool, offering controlled access to a cooler so operators can securely display food and beverages for purchase in a public area.
“It’s really a product that has two distinct purposes,” McWhirter said. “It allows an operator to put out a range of products, whether it be a mix of drinks and fresh food, and have that cooler be locked by default. The consumer has to either swipe their credit card or scan their Global Market Account ID — which is our value account — and then they can take what they want and scan it on the Pico device with the barcode scanner on the bottom, and then just simply hit the 'pay' button. I think we're most excited about the new opportunities the controlled access application allows for our existing customer base."
Thanks to advances in anti-theft solutions such as locking coolers and cashless point-of-sale systems (and the general public’s growing acceptance of using cashless and mobile payment options), operators now have the ability to directly compete with c-stores, grocery markets and grab-and-go restaurants. C-stores, in particular, have encroached upon the micro market space with expanded offerings to customers such as customized deli sandwiches, specialty coffee and packaged meals that customers can quickly purchase before they head out the door.
“Self-service is just beginning to work its way into the mainstream,” Hessling said. “Our industry is uniquely positioned to leverage our expertise with the rest of retail, hospitality and foodservice.”
Amazon is betting on this growing trend of automated public markets by opening more Amazon Go locations around the country. Most Amazon Go stores do not utilize cashiers, and customers are required to download the Amazon Go app in order to purchase items such as ready-to-eat meals and snacks, groceries and meal kits. With the growing presence of Amazon Go stores, expect to see consumers grow increasingly comfortable with this concept.
If you’re a micro market operator and you’re still hesitant to get in the game with public-facing markets, take a good look at your competition — they’re not hesitating to compete in your space. If you’re not sure where to start, Hessling advised that conducting research is a good first step.
“My suggestion to operators is to remain open-minded and do some R&D of their own by trying out new technology with customers that are open-minded,” Hessling said. “The client will appreciate it, and operators can learn what is working and what is not. Every company should have an R&D budget to remain relevant.”