Technology is key to the future of vending. As the automatic retail industry continues to advance in the 21st century, solutions providers heavily invest in technology that helps operators run a streamlined, successful business. With many options on the market, operators can choose a technology solution that meets their size, budget and needs.
We reached out to several providers of vending management technology to explore the options.
When considering technology implementation, operators must determine how much to invest in order to achieve their desired sales goals. Technology that allows for efficient inventory management and limited spoilage helps operators run a profitable business.
LightSpeed Automation offers two routes to maximum sales. “LightSpeed has an indirect impact on sales,” said David Marler, VP of sales and marketing. “By increasing the number of orders that can be prekitted in a normal shift, drivers can service more machines each day, thereby increasing revenue per route. LightSpeed can also reduce the number of mistakes in the warehouse, reducing the number of times a spiral in a machine is left empty, which also will help increase sales.” LightSpeed eliminates paper pick tickets, sends service order updates back to the provider and gives the operator visibility into the productivity of their warehouse staff, he added.
Another software LightSpeed offers is Level, which assists with managing overall inventory. “Reducing total on-hand inventory reduces spoilage,” Marler said. “Having a clear understanding of what you actually need as opposed to what you think you need will provide lower quantities, especially on items that have a short shelf life.”
Vagabond sources data for its vending management software (VMS) from the multi-drop bus (MDB) port of vending machines.
“The Vagabond VMS was designed and built to source its information from transactional, live data,” said Juan Jorquera, chief marketing officer at Vagabond. “For vending machines, this translates into MDB sales data that reports every cash and cashless sale with specified transaction time in seconds to any Vagabond VMS member’s [customer] account through Vagabond’s Insight telemetry device.”
This allows operators to know exactly when their best-selling prod ucts are selling at specific machines and which products to add extra rows of when merchandising, which is important for high sales locations requiring frequent visits.
“For many operators, having actual live views of all their machines is crucial and important to how they manage and run their operations,” he said.
“Furthermore, this is what enables [the] consumer engagement platform to work the way it does. Vagabond knows which consumer purchased which product, when they purchased it and exactly where, down to the millisecond,” Jorquera added. “This enables many capabilities for product brands and operators to target particular consumers with specific promotional programs through direct email or by promoting specific products at the sale point.”
Vagabond integrates Google Maps with its VMS scheduling feature, allowing operators to create service routes that will maximize time spent at customer accounts and minimize time drivers spend behind the wheel, he said. Drivers can limit visits to machines based on criteria including the amount of cash and inventory. Vagabond VMS also allows operators to prekit individual machine tubs at the warehouse or use the Load Truck feature to pack all the cases of product they need for that day’s route onto a truck. Operators who don’t have the warehouse prekitting resources or may not want to disrupt operational process can choose to only pack the minimal number of cases for the day’s route onto their truck.
“Once the driver arrives at an account, the driver opens up the Vagabond VMS mobile app to prekit for the account’s machines then, and because Vagabond VMS sales data is live, the driver knows they’ll be able to fill the machines up to 100% capacity,” he said.
The company also offers product efficiency reports, enabling operators to view exact quantities of products they have sold at any chosen time interval at specific machines, accounts or across the entire operation. This allows operators to better merchandise their sale points with the right products, boost sales and reduce spoilage by reducing par values, Jorquera noted.
Gimme integrates artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision and machine learning for product and schedule changes. The company prides itself on using the latest technology.
“Seventy-five percent of the technologies we use today didn’t exist two years ago,” said Cory Hewett, cofounder and CEO of Gimme. The technology’s provision of machine status data helps operators focus on cash accountability and inventory tracking to reduce stockouts, accelerate warehousing and restocking, and streamline product planning. Route mapping and sequencing reports help customers increase efficiency. Gimme VMS, which the company released in April 2019, automates the inventory process from start to finish, leveraging AI and machine learning to provide a product suite to manage convenience service operators’ entire product life cycle and allow complete control and oversight of the operation. Operators using the software can more easily provide excellent product mix based on location, demographic and purchasing trends.
“We designed Gimme VMS to respond to our customers’ evolving technology needs,” said Evan Jarecki, co-founder of Gimme. “The VMSs our customers were using could not keep up with the fast-paced nature of today’s markets. Our customers asked us when we would build a better VMS for their operation. We have responded with Gimme VMS.”
Blue World’s C3 Inventory Trak allows vending operators to manage ordering, production, distribution, sales and waste of food items in their vending, food machines and micro markets. Inventory Trak evaluates spoilage of unsold items by point-of-sale and makes recommendations based on target waste for food ordering. One-Click ordering saves operators time and money by using data-driven metrics to optimize orders and reduce waste.
Blue World’s software also includes Nutrilabel Pro, a nutritional calculator and label generator software. Operators create recipes using weights of specific ingredients within the system, and Nutrilabel Pro quickly calculates the combined nutritional values. After generating the nutritionals, a back-of-package label is produced per FDA regulatory standards that can be downloaded and printed. The front-of-package custom label generator can be used to apply expiration dates, net weight conversions, calorie count and more to your label. C3 is partnered with VIP Printers to offer a fully deployable system to operators’ commissaries. Blue World’s software can be joined together, or operators may select a la carte from the offerings.
“This technology is a suite of operator-focused software developed with leading fresh food providers in the vending industry,” said Ryan Horch, director of operations.
“By reducing spoilage, operators will save money on input costs and C3 takes the guesswork out of ordering, saving time,” Horch said. “Inventory Trak has proven to produce ROI [return on investment] for an operator after one quarter of use.”
Points of sale
With the exception of LightSpeed, whose technology specifications do not involve points of sale, all the service providers we spoke with said their vending operator management technology can be used at several different points of sale. This includes micro markets, office coffee service, vending and employer-paid services like pantry.
Jarecki noted that Gimme allows hybrid routes to be “seamlessly transitioned,” and all points of sale can be managed with one app.
Horch added that Inventory Trak is “very flexible.”
Vagabond’s platform can be used at food trucks, delivery or order-ahead sale points, charitable/social causes and to sell office/janitorial supplies.
Back-end reporting options
LightSpeed offers an array of reports that show data in categories ranging from detailing which products are out of stock in the warehouse to how many items each employee picked on a given day.
Vagabond members can use sales reports the VMS provides to adjust account offerings to match consumers’ desires, increase operational profitability and generally maximize sales, Jorquera said. “Vagabond is a unique VMS provider in that it supplies purchase transactional information down to the second for all cashless and cash transactions, through its Insight telemetry hardware, thanks to its MDB-focused design,” Jorquera said. “VMS reports are readily available to be exported as CSV files to be used with any other accounting or ERP software for further customization and use.” Since 2015, Vagabond VMS has been accessible to the vision impaired. The app integrates seamlessly with Apple’s native Accessibility functions, allowing vision impaired operators across the U.S. to manage their businesses, improve their businesses’ profitability and increase their livelihood.
Gimme’s multi-variable reporting tool is available in real-time and can be viewed on any device, including phones and tablets, Jarecki said Gimme built VMS mobile-first, making it harmonious with other apps and allowing users to visualize and manage their entire operation, from warehouses to delivery locations. Custom integrations are available for suppliers’ needs, and operators can export report data to XLS, CSV and PDF file formats with ease. Gimme VMS’s bisynchronous data syncing [both sending and receiving devices already “talking” before data transmission begins] makes loading times minimal. Their software also provides an activity feed for all employee actions, like product and schedule changes, and in-app messaging keeps keeps all workplace chatter in one place. A reality-based scheduling system tracks holidays and scheduling trends.
Blue World allows operators to run custom reports from within the system for all data points on demand, Horch said. Users can run and download waste reports by item, account, points of sale, route, menu, etc.
LightSpeed uses a resident server to ensure the data flow is not interrupted or slowed down, which would cause the prekitting operation to slow. “Every operator does not have access to highspeed internet or fiber, so by placing a server on-site, once the orders are pulled into LightSpeed, picking can run smoothly without interruption,” Marler said.
Vagabond uses a distributed cloudbased architecture for data storage and computation that incorporates built-in failover, Jorquera said. Gimme’s software uses an elastic/distributed cloud on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
“We can handle an unlimited number of connected devices,” Jarecki said. Data processing and generation of reports can all be done in real time, and there are multiple redundancies available to avoid data loss. Gimme’s customers can access up-to-date information anywhere there is an internet connection. Gimme VMS synchronizes data between all online devices in real time. With its multi-tenancy architecture, it can support multiple warehouses across different geographies. An asynchronous, bidirectional connection [data can reliably be sent from device to server, or server to device, without the receiver of data needing to take action] ensures stable operation even as devices are online or go offline.
Blue World’s C3 also uses AWS. “Blue World is an AWS-certified firm and maintains the highest level of data security and compliance,” Horch said.
Promotions and advertising platforms
LightSpeed’s software doesn’t directly deal with promotions, but LightSpeed’s Vision is a digital advertising platform that enables operators to push an ad directly to a customer at the exact moment they are making a buying decision while standing in front of a product. “This is a very powerful solution with hard-tobelieve results and an easy sell to manufacturers looking to expand their digital advertising spend wisely,” Marler said. Vagabond’s Consumer Engagement Platform enables operators to influence behavior so consumers purchase more of what operators push during specific timeframes. Operators can promote particular products at specific accounts by making these products appear first when consumers are at the account, subtly increasing sales up to 50%, according to Jorquera. “Operators and brands can also offer monetary discounts of specific products for predetermined amounts
of time at select accounts to encourage purchases,” Jorquera said. “The Vagabond VMS manages all of this. Operators can promote specific products without directly advertising to the consumer that particular products are being promoted. Think of it as ‘advertising without advertising.’ Most consumers don’t want ads prominently displayed to them and usually dismiss them.”
Average major version release gaps
LightSpeed updates its software continuously and individually releases updates to customers. “Since LightSpeed is not a cloud-based platform we don’t push updates to all customers at the same time,” Marler said. “Instead, we update customers as they contact support for assistance. The next major upgrade is going to be V4 and we hope to have that ready to roll out by the end of 2020.”
The Vagabond VMS application releases new features every couple of months depending on the needs of operators and end consumers for each platform. New features are prioritized to match the most pressing needs and highest benefits to platform users. These could include new columns to reports, tweaks to existing product sales reports, new features, or updates of the mobile and web applications. On average, Gimme provides major upgrades once or twice each year and releases minor upgrades weekly. These updates happen automatically and don’t disrupt operations with downtime.
Blue World releases software upgrades on a quarterly basis. “User feedback is taken very seriously, and we work hard to accommodate as many requests as we can,” Horch said.
LightSpeed’s new Xpress, a mobile picking solution, is affordable for operators of all sizes, Marler said. “A very small setup fee and a monthly subscription will get an operator prekitting in no time,” he said. The pick to light solution FastTrack is made for larger operators, and about eight routes will allow for a ROI under 18 months, he said. LightSpeed’s Level, an advanced inventory management module, provides an operator complete visibility of the amount of inventory in their building. It is sold on a subscription basis, and operators can cancel it whenever they desire. “The days of walking the warehouse with a clipboard and eye-balling what needs to be ordered are gone,” Marler said. “Level will calculate the number of days of inventory on hand for each SKU and provide a recommendation on how much needs to be ordered based on a three-week trailing velocity. Purchase order templates and fill levels allow the operator to gradually adjust and lower the amount of inventory in the warehouse and increase the amount of cash in the bank.”
Vagabond’s VMS comes with a one-time account activation fee for new members. The VMS monthly service fees for third-party-connected machines depend on the number of machines connected to Vagabond’s VMS. The cost of Vagabond’s hardware solutions relates to the units needed. The Vagabond Insight telemetry-only device has a rental agreement for hardware rental and instant cash sales data sourcing to Vagabond VMS, which includes hardware rental, cashless consumer engagement platform, instant cash and cashless sales data transfer, and Vagabond VMS. The Consumer Engagement Platform solutions, which enable mobile payments for convenience markets, micro markets, honor boxes, food trucks, and charitable donations, are a monthly fee per instance. There is a transaction fee on all purchases. Mobile delivery is a monthly fee. Operators can have a percentage revenue share if they create a relationship between merchants and end consumers. Financing solutions are available for Fixturelite Markets, machine upgrade boards, AMS Snack and Combo, AMS Touchless and Dixie Narco 5800 Touchless beverage machines.
Gimme charges a flat fee, which can be paid monthly or annually. “Everyone pays the same price,” Jarecki said. This fee includes everything: support, hardware, upgrades, and highly specific deployment and training plans. “And, no hidden fees,” he noted.
Blue World has no upfront cost and a tiered payment system of monthly prices based on the number of routes and points of sale. There is a free 30-day trial period, which is available to any size operator.
LightSpeed offers continuous support, 24/7/365. Phones are answered live from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. EST, and a call center reaches an after-hours support team. Support is part of the annual licensing for all technology options.
Vagabond provides a tiered system of support for its members, per its Vagabond Service Level Agreements, seen on its website. “Generally, members can reach out to Vagabond staff via telephone or email from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, barring major holidays,” Jorquera said. “If issues require further troubleshoot ing or assistance from our partners, requests may take a little longer to address, but we will still aim to meet the above timelines.”
Gimme responds to service calls via phone, email, in-person and an online knowledge base. Jarecki noted that 99% of calls are answered the first time and 85% of emails are answered in less than one hour if received between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST. The company is willing to share logs and reports with results upon request.
Blue World offers complimentary onboarding, support and training as part of the subscription. That training can be done via phone or email.
Other technology options
Fastcorp Vending offers a versatile and customizable portfolio of automated retail machines equipped with a comprehensive VMS solution and optional age verification component. Their machines include patented robotic vacuum technology or patented conveyor systems. “They can be configured to just about any size and shaped product,” said president Brian Weinstein. Weinstein said the technology works across the spectrum of operators’ size and budget. “Our technology is perfect for all sizes of operators,” he said. “We work with operators that operate one machine as well as with the largest machine and gaming operators in the country.”
Evaluating the options
Implementing the right technology is key for operators who want to run a successful, streamlined operation. After examining the options at their disposal, they can make informed decisions that will assist them in running a profitable business.