Vending machines help create unique customer experiences
When the word “vending machine’’ is uttered, many consumers confuse it with the machines that prepare snacks and drinks. Though these machines do not risk extinction, the vending technology that provides greater functionality is constantly gaining central importance. The retailers that comprehend its significance are investing money in this field.
Lori Mitchell-Keller, global general manager of consumer industries at SAP said that in the contemporary digital world, the retailers are finding out novel ways to embrace customer experience. Moreover, she said that brands are launching such smart vending machines that connect customers directly with the desired products: this develops a positive attitude of people towards shopping and helps in accessing more customers.
A variety of products are provided by the new machines such as electronic products, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical items. Mitchell-Keller states that when one walks through various airports, he/she could discover vending machines providing beauty items, computer tools, and travel gear.
The visitors of the Brooklyn Museum were buying jewelry collection of Marla Aaron through a vending machine present outside the art museum’s gift shop at the beginning of this year.
Marla Aaron got the idea during her trip to Japan when she saw vending machines selling exclusive items and decided to build one.
The initial step was of building a vending system that helps customers to familiarize themselves with the brand. Since Marla Aaron is not a prominent brand, it required telling a story. The company also needed to gain the trust of people, so that the customer could feel confident in buying expensive products.
“We’re selling handmade objects. We wanted to give them to customers in an unexpected way.”
— Marla Aaron, Marla Aaron Jewelry
In this regard, the machine showed images of Aaron’s jewelry and a video revealing the company’s story. The purchased products are delivered in boxes of orange linen and purple suede pouches. “We’re selling handmade objects,” Aaron says. “We wanted to give them to customers in an unexpected way.”
The Aaron Company does not have any retail outlet for telling its story, so the vending machine was used for this purpose.
A range of use cases of customers
Elizabeth Klingseisen, senior director of demand generation marketing with IT service management company CompuCom says that the new generation of vending machines performs a variety of functions in addition to selling various products. For example, it helped in protecting expensive products from being stolen, in handling the items purchased online, and in managing the employee supplies and process returns.
Kent Savage, CEO of Apex Supply Chain Technologies states there these machines also offer self- serve automation which is a wider trend these days. Apex recently builds an automated concession system in collaboration with Cincinnati Reds.
This happens, in a way with buy online, pick up in store. According to the 2017 Retail Click and Collect Consumer Preference Study by service and technology firm Bell and Howell, in the holiday season of 2017, one- third of shopper bought items online and picked them up at stores. This was to save the cost of shipping and to receive products on the same day. Tim Barrett, a senior retailing analyst with Euromonitor International mentions that vending machines have made the time-consuming process automatic. Instead of waiting in customer service lines, the shoppers can go to vending machines and get their required product. This aids both the stores and shoppers to complete their tasks on time.
Retailers can also benefit themselves. The products that people did not buy during their online shopping could be promoted for beginners. According to Klingseisen, this could enhance the initial sale. She further adds that 59 percent of the respondents of the Bell and Howell report said that they often buy additional items when they are in store.
Michael Pitts, president of vending machine supplier IVM Inc states that the small items that are likely to be stolen are protected by vending machines while making them accessible to the legitimate customers. For this purpose, the current strategy is that a tag is hung on the shelf that the customers take and give it to the salesperson who scans it and coordinates with another employee who retrieves the product. This process is time-consuming and engages many employees.
The intelligent vending system makes the process more efficient. Instead of depending on an employee, the shoppers can themselves scan the barcode present on their receipts in order to open a locker present in the machine to get the items they have bought.
Smart vending machines are used in dealing with products such as cigarette, alcohol, etc for which the company needs to maintain a chain of custody. The software can be configured to keep a record of everyone who accesses these items.
Vending for supplies
Pitts mentions that Intelligent vending machines are also used for employees requisition supplies. The employee can use their identification badge to open a locker and get the required equipment.
In order to prevent potential abuse, the software of the machine restricts the access to particular employee groups, Pitt says. It could also inform about the timings of the usage of the machine by the employees to get the items that they use and return at the end of the shift. The software will reveal information about the items that are not returned.
The machine can be refilled with items once the quantity falls below the required level by connecting the software to the supplier system.
The intelligent vending technology can be used by retailers for automating returns, Savage says. Rather than waiting in customer line, the customer can put the item in a locker and the store would receive an alert that confirms that the item is returned.
Reliable data of customers
In order to achieve the potential of the intelligent vending system, reliable and accurate data is required. This is true when the company need to fill online orders from the vending machine at the store.
The inventory needs to be accurate so when the customers come to the locker it is there, he says. Most shoppers turn to BOPIS when they run out of time, so retailers should provide the products they have promised about else they would risk losing customers.
The retailers who use machines to place BOPIS orders need to know information about the transaction and customer to serve them appropriately. For example, the customers using a wheelchair need to have the products placed in a machine so that they could access them.
Vending machines do not provide the facility of trying on items, so customers may limit their purchases to such products that do not require fitting or buy such items that they have bought in the past. Mitchell-Keller said that such drawbacks will soon be abolished by enhancing the capabilities of vending machines.
Pitt says that in the upcoming few years every consumer would access intelligent vending machines for BOPIS and to purchase various other items.
Furthermore, Klingseisen claims that the combination of lockers and vending abilities enables retailers to expand their reach and solve various problems.