The beverage can falls into the vending machine’s product delivery shaft. The customer has paid for it not with cash but with a tweet. That may have been a marketing gag for the South African beverage company Bos Brands, but it shows that digitisation has now taken hold of the vending business, too.
From a choice of products optimised for the machine’s location via mobile payment processes, new opportunities are opening up for the industry along the value chain. An important technical basis for these changes is machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, or automated data interchange between machines or between machines and a control centre. Vending operators who equip their machines with M2M solutions gain more control over them, reduce maintenance and refilling costs, and offer customers more attractive alternatives.
The concept of connected vending machines is nothing new. Solutions frequently pigeonholed under a telemetry heading have been on the market for years but — at least in Europe — were unable to catch on. They mostly supported few vending machine models, while operators typically use vending machines from a variety of manufacturers with different industry standards. So for them, support for all of the vending machines they use is the key criterion for buying into an M2M solution. Some solutions available in the market now fulfill this requirement.
The prejudice that it is too expensive was another reason why vending operators were reluctant to adopt the technology. After all, they have to equip every machine with a device that reads its status and relays the information to a server through a wireless network. They also need the IT infrastructure to process data. In the worst case, vending machine operators had to rely on individual offers by hardware, software providers and mobile network providers. They also required an IT team of their own or had to hire service providers to manage the solutions. Today, providers have taken to putting together all-inclusive packages.
Deutsche Telekom in conjunction with its Vendon partner Vendon, for example, offers a solution that bundles hardware, software services and connectivity. It contains a communication module that is compatible with all established vending machine standards along with cloud-based software to manage inventories and sales and coordinate callouts. The special feature of this offer is that instead of having to invest heavily upfront in devices and IT infrastructure, users pay only a monthly fee per connected machine. That makes it easier for vending machine operators to weigh up the costs and benefits of an M2M solution. The entry threshold is lower.