Many people still associate vending machines with the classic vending machines: where you threw money in after which a lemonade can or a chocolate bar of your choice rolled out. That is not comparable to today’s technology and the number of applications has also expanded considerably.
Internet of Things
Thanks to modern technologies like Internet of Things, vending machines can be managed and operated very differently. Partly because of this, the devices also offer much more flexibility. For instance, vending machines not only dispense but also take in products. In addition, many more types and versions have appeared.
This is why I prefer to use the term ‘smart vending’. But I would like to add straight away that there need not be any selling at all. There are many more smart applications that, for instance, increase service or efficiency. The technology behind it is actually no longer important; now it’s all about ease of use. The vending machine has become a multifunctional service station.
A vending machine used to be an additional, unmanned point of sale. Now the machine can be used for a much broader range of things. This is becoming more widely known among companies in the market segments we focus on: IT & Office, Food & Catering and Industry. As a result, we get very diverse enquiries.
For example, from farmers who also sell their products directly to consumers. This is a trend which corona reinforces. Consumers want to buy local, organic and fresh products. As a farmer, you want to do what you are good at: growing and cultivating agricultural products. You do not want to be a shopkeeper. Sales are a side issue and should not take up too much time. This explains the need for an unmanned vending machine, where customers can buy and pay for their vegetables, fruit or dairy themselves. This function most closely resembles the vending machine of the past.
IT vending, on the other hand, is not about sales at all, but about ease of use and continuous availability. The vending machine holds various computer peripherals. Securely locked, but with a personal code, employees can get a new mouse or headset themselves. They are not dependent on a facility employee who has to fetch such a thing from the warehouse (or send it if they work from home). They can continue working in no time.
Just take a company with, say, 3,000 employees and think about how much work it is: there are easily one or two people spending all day long handing out mice, cables and other accessories. Those are very expensive mice then.
Things are different now, as corona has made many office premises almost extinct. This has other consequences as well. For instance, a lot of indoor business restaurants have been closed. It looks as if, even after the pandemic, lots of people will continue to work from home part of the week. As a result, many kitchens have become too large and unaffordable.
As an alternative, the first corporate caterers are now opting for vending machines deployed as satellite outlets spread across several companies. There customers can pick up their ordered meals. An additional advantage is that there is less food waste. The caterer only produces what has been ordered in advance.
We developed a completely different solution, which underlines how vending machines can be geared to specific needs, for apartment complexes. The ever-growing popularity of online shopping means that at such flats, it is a coming and going of parcel deliverers… Few people are at home during the day, and if there is a caretaker, he no longer gets round to his regular work because he constantly has to accept parcels.
A vending machine in the central hall then offers a solution: the deliverer puts the order in a locker; the resident receives a notification and a code and can take the parcel out at his or her convenience. The locker is then available again for the next order, for another resident.
We have also built our lockers in shipping containers, which are set up as mobile warehouses during a project or a stop at a petrochemical plant. An industrial tool rental company can thus rent out its equipment on-site in an unmanned way. Management is done remotely.
Registered subcontractors can use their pass to take out and return tools. We record these transactions and pass this information on to the customer in question, so that he can invoice the correct tools and rental instalments.
It thus ensures enormous workplace availability and convenience for users from multiple companies.
The examples all show that smart vending brings convenience and efficiency. It is worth remembering that the machine itself only comes second. For us, it starts with understanding what the customer needs… You want to develop a solution for that. In terms of functionality and taking proper care of logistics.
By the way, one aspect of the old vending machines of the past remains the same: the location is crucial. You can have the most beautiful and smart vending machine there is, but if it is in the wrong place, you are guaranteed to miss the mark. The intended users should get there regularly and not have to put in any effort. Ease of use must be present at all levels.