Unattended retail usage grows during pandemic, fueled by younger consumers: study

Aug. 18, 2021

Ninety percent of people used unattended retail as much or more during the pandemic, according to a recent survey by Cantaloupe Inc., a digital payments and software services company.

According to Cantaloupe’s survey, younger consumers were the most likely to increase usage during that period. Twenty-three percent of respondents between the age of 18 and 34 said that the pandemic increased their usage of unattended retail, compared with 18% of 35- to 54-year-olds, and only 4% of respondents over 55 years of age.

Nearly half of consumers who increased usage in unattended retail during the pandemic cited speed (49%), social distancing (49%) and convenience (47%) as reasons for the increase. Sixty-eight percent of those respondents noted in the survey it is important to have a touchless option post-pandemic.

Data security and options to pay with cash are more important to younger shoppers, Cantaloupe noted.

“We learned a great deal from the pandemic, particularly the resiliency of unattended retail which was tested to its core,” said Cantanoupe chief executive Sean Feeney. “As we look ahead, it’s clear that consumers like unattended retail, it’s very sticky, and our software and payments platform opens the door to many sales channels for our operators.

“How we continue to evolve the industry to keep pace with the expectations of consumers must also factor in what is important to younger shoppers, Feeney continued. “Having diverse payment options, being able to buy nontraditional items and ensuring the data security of payments, should be top of mind for every operator now.”

Forty-one percent of respondents who purchased an item through an unattended channel in the three months prior to the survey said unattended options make them more likely to shop in a retailer’s other channels in the future. 


Range is important to younger shoppers. While debit and credit are the most preferred payment method overall (67%), nearly one in five respondents (19%) noted preferring cash, and 12% preferring payment apps like Venmo, Google Pay and others. Interestingly, among those respondents between 18 and 34, 25% prefer cash. This compares to only 11% of participants 55 and over.

Health and beauty, clothing vending purchases gain interest. Eighty-two percent of consumers have some interest in purchasing nontraditional items from a vending machine, and the increase has grown significantly since 2019, the time of the last survey. Clothing showed the greatest 2-year increase with 70% of respondents interested in purchasing these items now, versus only 55% in 2019.  Health and beauty showed a significant increase as well with 71% in 2021 versus 64% in 2019.

Speed drives increased usage. Sixty percent of respondents (versus 49% in 2019) noted the speed of unattended retail was driving usage overall with 45% of respondents noting that not having to talk to a store employee and having shorter lines were also key drivers (compared to 35% in 2019 respectively). 

Worth noting, however, is that while a growing number of respondents said that improvements in data security were driving usage (18% in 2021 versus 10% in 2019), this is especially likely among younger consumers.  Thirty percent of 18-34 years old say that data security is a driver of usage, compared to only 12% of respondents ages 35 to 54 and 6% of older respondents age 55 and over. 

Unattended retail usage occurs at least once a month. Of those who purchased products through unattended retail in the three months prior to the survey, 37% said they continue to make purchases through unattended once per week, with 19% purchasing once a month.

Cantaloupe’s findings are based on the results of a consumer survey by CITE Research, which targeted samples of more than 2,000 census-based U.S. adults each balanced by gender, geography and age group, fielded from Jun. 1 to 8, 2021. The study was completed through proprietary sample sources among panels who participate in online surveys.


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