Unattended retail technology is pushing the industry forward

June 26, 2023
Operators should consider the latest equipment innovations to help stay competitive.

Unattended retail has seen a boom in technology, especially in the equipment realm. Companies leading the way are creating innovations that give customers a range of offerings – whether it’s baked desserts in a minute, a hot main course, or a coffeeshop-like experience without a barista. Other manufacturers are producing technology that makes it easier for vending operators to sell age-restricted products in machines, thereby diversifying offerings and increasing sales.

Further, other manufacturers have created dual-climate- zone smart machines that use AI product recognition technology, allowing consumers to touch products and knowing which items the customer selects. Not too long ago, these technologies and their capabilities were unheard of in the industry; but today, new innovations are helping operators in the unattended retail market stay competitive.

A unique unattended shopping experience

One of the downsides of the traditional vending experience has been that customers weren’t able to engage with the product they’re thinking of buying – until now. Through new innovations, operators can sell a more diverse mix of products, and customers are able to touch and feel their products prior to purchase. The Quik Pick by PepsiCo, for example, won Automatic Merchandiser’s Readers’ Choice Product of the Year in the equipment category for a reason: its technology and intuitive user experience. The Quik Pick allows customers to simply use their card to unlock the door, pick out a beverage and shut the door, thereby completing the transaction. The product’s automatic recognition technology puts a spin on traditional vending.

Meanwhile, 365 Retail Markets’ Stockwell 2.0 is a dual-temperature merchandiser that can house refrigerated products on one side and ambient products on the other. Customers simply scan their phone or swipe their card, giving them the ability to open the door and select their product. AI product recognition technology makes purchasing the product easy.

Attendees at the NAMA Show this year could view firsthand an unattended retail experience at the U-Select-It (USI) booth. The Scan & Go Market from USI uses innovative technology that benefits both the operator and the consumer. Consumers simply pay at the market, grab their items, scan the products and check out. They have the ability to touch and feel the products prior to purchase, enhancing their shopping experience. In addition, operators can offer customers fresh foods, beverages and snacks all in one solution, while controlled access and automatic locking reduces chances of theft. The Scan & Go Market sends data through DEX, integrating into an operation’s already existing VMS.

Likewise, at this year’s NAMA Show, Instant Retail Systems showcased its Self Service Store in Imagination Way wherein cameras track customers while they shop, and shelf sensor technologies monitor the inventory. Items removed from shelves are added to the customer’s virtual shopping cart where they have the ability to modify and confirm their shopping cart prior to payment at the exit.

The company also has its Grab & Go Flex system, wherein customers first use a credit card or mobile phone to attach payment to the kiosks and are then only charged for what is removed. Coolers, freezers, cabinets and coffee makers can all be mixed and matched in order to give the customer a truly expansive product offering.

Hot, fresh and high-quality

Micro markets are a great way to offer quality foods to consumers, but hot food has been a missing component in micro markets. One solution: Just Baked Smart Bistro from Automated Retail Technologies. This kiosk offers fresh, hot food – from desserts to entrees – at the touch of a button. The autonomous smart kiosk is cashless, giving customers the ability to pay via credit card, debit card, student cards or the Just Baked app. The kiosk, which holds up to 64 unique SKUs, offers remote management and real-time alerts for operators.

Josh Rosenberg, president and chief revenue officer at Automated Retail Technologies, notes that this technology is an opportunity for the vending industry. “We deliver a reliable solution for all types of occasions including hot or cold temp snacks, indulgence and meals with 24/7 accessibility,” he said. “In the majority of cases, this enables our industry to participate in a space they’ve been absent. If an operator can keep a consumer from going offsite or ordering delivery, they stand a greater chance at capturing a higher share of wallet with increased visits and add-on sales to accompany their meal purchases.”

The Just Baked Smart Bistro is integrated with Parlevel and Cantaloupe, enabling the operators to work within their existing VMS solutions. “For payment, we have integrations with Nayax and all the major university campus and employee payroll deduct platforms, all of which make both operations and revenue growth viable,” said Rosenberg. “In addition to industry norm, we have some unique capabilities we are very proud to showcase, too. Our kiosk does its own inventory, which reports to the back office as well as informing both management and the fulfillment specialist if they loaded the kiosk correctly, what was loaded, and any other pertinent information related to the fill. This also includes a feature that matches the front-end digital menu to the load.” He noted that everything on the kiosk is trackable, and alerts can be set up on any iOS or Android device for kiosk management.

The Silicon Valley-based food technology company Yo-Kai Express launched its YKE Desktop earlier this year at CES 2023. The YKE Desktop creates on-demand hot ramen noodles in 90 seconds for customers. As the name suggests, the YKE Desktop is ideal for small spaces. It may take up a small amount of space, but it comes with big innovation. The machine uses RFID (radio frequency identification), paired with an RFID freezer able to store 20 to 24 bowls.

But these innovations don’t just stop with food vending machines. A recipient of the National Restaurant Association Show’s Kitchen Innovations Awards, Coca-Cola’s Costa Smart Cafe Marlow 1.2 is a technologically advanced machine providing gourmet coffee without the barista. The autonomous system uses real milk and freshly ground beans, offering customers more than 200 high-quality beverage options in less than 90 seconds. For operators, this means the ability to offer locations a quality coffee experience with little maintenance or labor requirements.

Age verification made easier

Technology is also making it easier for operators to responsibly sell regulated items from vending machines. For example, PayRange has made it easy for operators to sell 21+ products with its new in-app age verification solution, immi. Once a PayRange BluCheck device is installed on a vending machine and activated by the operator, consumers launch the immi age verification process from within the PayRange app. The user scans the front and back of their government issued ID, then takes a selfie, wherein FaceMatch AI matches the person to the ID. The immi technology and BluCheck are fully integrated into the PayRange platform.

Fastcorp Vending also showcased its game-changing DIVI Regulated Vending Machine with new IDScan technology at this year’s NAMA Show. The machine uses an ID authentication device able to detect nearly 98% of fake IDs. Through the use of a high-resolution webcam and proprietary software, the vending machine matches the purchaser to the image on the ID. With the introduction of these solutions, unattended retail has become a viable option to selling regulated products.

Smart solutions with accessibility features

Cantaloupe introduced its newly branded Cantaloupe Go product line of solutions at the NAMA Show. This was the first time Cantaloupe’s advancements in Smart Store technology using artificial intelligence (AI) and Smart Lock features were debuted publicly.
The Smart Café uses dynamic vision and AI technology to charge the consumer for products they select out of the cooler. Consumers present their payment, grab the item, and walk away. Making its debut at NAMA’s Imagination Way, the Smart Market, a completely locked micro market, allows consumers to log into a user account or unlock the market with a credit/debit card. Once the consumer has made their selections, they complete their purchase at the kiosk. The ADA-height compliant kiosk has accessibility features such as a large touchscreen, headphone jack and audio assistance.

This and the other new equipment technology proves that there is a lot to be excited about in the unattended retail industry – now and in the future. ■

About the Author

Adrienne Klein | Contributing Editor

Adrienne Zimmer Klein is a freelance writer with a background in the vending, micro market and office coffee service industry. She worked at Automatic Merchandiser and VendingMarketWatch.com from 2013 until February 2017.

 

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