Two Words To Describe The Future Of Vending? ‘Customer Engagement’

From our Sales Director, Craig Jukes

Let me begin by making a statement that nails my colours very firmly to the mast: every business needs to be data driven. If they’re not, they’ll fail. Quite honestly, it’s as simple as that.

The future is all about customer engagement and make no mistake, customer engagement trumps customer loyalty every time. All machines, not just vending machines – will need to be networked and use collaborative filtering to turn the heads of tomorrow’s savvy buyers.

‘Collaborative filtering’ is a method of making automatic predictions about the interests of a user by collecting preferences, or taste information, from many users. The underlying assumption of the collaborative filtering approach is that if a person A has the same opinion as a person B on an issue, A is more likely to have B’s opinion, on a different issue, than that of a randomly chosen person. For example, a collaborative filtering recommendation system for tv programme preferences could make predictions about which television show a user should like, given a partial list of that user’s likes or dislikes.

We’ll also embrace something called ‘remarketing’. Google uses this technique all the time; it’s a form of online advertising that our industry can adopt, so that vending machine screens show only targeted ads to users who’ve used the machine previously. If a consumer buys crisps regularly and there’s a new flavour available, for instance, the ad for that new product might begin to run as the consumer approaches the machine. Google has shown that remarketing can dramatically increase conversion rates and ROI and I’m sure that we in vending will experience the same effect.

That’s what I mean by ‘consumer engagement’!

As a leading, world-wide machine manufacturer, it’s incumbent upon Evoca Group to give operators the tools they need to reduce TCO, (total cost of ownership) and improve the customer experience – and that’s what we’re all striving to do. However, whilst we’ve been on a mission to maximise the potential of data collection for many years, a significant number of operators are only now making their first, tentative forays into what must appear to be a world of confusing claims and counter claims.

They want information, but sometimes they don’t understand what information they want, what’s possible to achieve; how to get that information and once they’ve got it, what to do with it.

So, here’s some good news: There’s something called the ‘European Vending Association Data Transfer Standard’, or ‘EVA DTS’. All European machine manufacturers have agreed that when they make a machine, data will be recorded in a certain way – statistics, failures, alerts – so when you extract that information and take it to a back office system, one manufacturer’s data looks much the same as another’s.

EVOCA we have several products designed to do unlock your data. There’s Hi, a cashless payment reader that works offline; Breasy, a mobile payment app capable of accepting payment from debit / credit cards or payment wallets, (which was developed with Mastercard and also collects real time sales data and can be customised to suit the needs of individual operators), and there’s AmiClo, our new content / digital signage tool that offers a cloud-based telemetry solution with a web portal.  It’s a clever piece of kit that allows people to use the cloud to update software, send video content – and event timed sales data. It’s now possible to identify failures fast, minimising downtime and thereby increasing the profitability of the machine. As the operator, it puts you in the shoes of that doctor we hear so much about these days – the one who calls you to let you know you’re ill!

With so many things happening and the pace of change accelerating, sometimes it’s tough to distinguish the present from the future; but I’ll give it a shot! It sounds sci-fi, but the fact is that A.I., or Artificial Intelligence, will open a portal to a new sales era in which no human interaction is required for a consumer to choose items, pay for them and collect them. A.I. will remove a host of barriers that presently exist between the purchaser and the purchase. So, for example,

if I’m wearing a smart watch, I’ll walk into a store, choose what I want and just walk out with the goods. My on line wallet will automatically be debited.

To sum up, the future of vending in this Brave New World is all about customer engagement made possible by customisable screens and the content that appears on them; by high availability and ease of payment. Vending companies will be data driven businesses – making decisions autonomously and having two-way communication with machines, without the need for human intervention. Based on data alone, vending operators will have the power to change products or media, offer appropriate drink options, manage loyalty schemes, deliver targeted advertising and employ facial or smart device recognition.

And just to think: we’re all old enough to remember when a vending machine was a dumb tin box that sat in the corner as a consumer’s last resort, when no other source of refreshment was available…