Venditalia: Vending, Payment, And So Much More

July 5, 2018

Venditalia, Milan, 6-9 June 2018 -- Apart from balmy air, the very first thing that catches your attention as you walk through the hot corridors of Bergamo Airport in Milan, Italy, are vending machines. Lots and lots of vending machines, all boasting payment terminals and eye-catching designs. They greet vending operators and machine manufacturers alike, sending a slight chill of anticipation for what awaits at Venditalia, just a dozen or so kilometers away. 

For visitors at the expo, the only thing more evident than the overwhelming heat is the prevalence of touchscreens. All the market players lean towards them, all the operators want to have them, surprisingly few actually do. 

Necta, Sanden Vendo and FAS, the most important producers of modern vending machines in Europe, all fit their new products with interactive touchscreens. They display a wide array of products to choose from, along with their ingredients and calorific value – a small, neat feature that caters to the more wary ones, who certainly don’t feel like gaining weight. 

Gamification also found its way in the vending market. A Necta coffee machine would challenge visitors to a quick game of Catch the Beans, as they was waiting for my drink to be served. The manufacturer managed to draw people’s attention away for a few seconds, which made them not notice how long it took until the drink was served. All thanks to the touchscreen. 

In fact, the only manufacturer that refrained from showcasing this technology turned out to be Spain’s own Azkoyen, whose representatives assure inquisitive operators that a prone to malfunctioning fad, such as the touchscreen, should not permeate the entire market. 

While raising an eyebrow seems like the natural reaction to such a bold statement, there is a certain logic behind it. At times it was apparent that a futuristic computer display is the right choice only when executed correctly. Some models seemed to have been adorned with a touchscreen only for the sake of it, which translated into lagging and freezing of the monitors. Admittedly, it was a rare sight, but an account of the event would not be complete without such an observation. 

Even though not all touchscreens were working perfectly, their presence definitely points towards a new tendency. The demand for touch-controlled vending machines is here, stronger than ever. The market encourages people to start thinking of vending machines as an alternative to convenience stores. 

Customer journey mapping is starting to catch on. Interacting with the automat needs to be quick, pleasant, but on top of it: it must feel familiar. It seems much more natural to look up from your phone and use another touchscreen to purchase a snack, than it is to vigilantly choose the product of choice, pushing the right buttons on a steel keypad. 

However, convenient control panels are not the only innovation stemming from our smartphones that the vending market wants to use. Mobile app developers are trying to have their slice of the cake, too. Sales representatives all over the exposition hall brandished their smartphones, tempting visitors with visions of phone-controlled purchases in vending machines. 

Most applications focused mainly on introducing a mobile wallet that the user can use to pay for snacks and coffee, instead of going through their pockets in search of loose change. Some lean towards simplifying communication between the user and the machine, by introducing assistants, who the customer talks to when they want to order a snack. 

In the hindsight, the solution posed just one main issue: the programs were only working with the specific machines they were dedicated for – usually owned by the company it was developed by. 

It all leads to a short conclusion: creativity runs high, innovation is needed and craved. What the market lacks, so it seems, to become a retail gamechanger, is a solid, affordable solution that combines all the ideas and creates a modular, universal answer to its needs.