Meeting the consumer where they are.
That’s the mantra of innovators everywhere. It’s what’s turned the retail word upside down as consumers with their mobile devices have decided they’d rather buy from their couch with their mobile phone than schlep to the mall.
It could also be what could transform what used to be called the “unattended” or “vending” industry.
That’s the conversation that Mike Lawlor, Chief Services Officer at USA Technologies, and Karen Webster had recently, where they kicked around the notion of “remote retail” as a new way to frame the unattended or vending segment.
After all, the technology has advanced to the point where these “remote retail” locations allow retailers to present their goods to consumers — where those consumers are — without having a fixed storefront or even a physical employee present to deliver that good (or service in some cases.)
It’s also what’s at the core of what Lawlor says USAT will launch this week at the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) OneShow in Chicago (April 13–15). In launching its new ePort Interactive products and services, USA Technologies is seeking to enable what Lawlor describes as “the next generation of retailing” for unattended retail markets, including vending, kiosk and commercial laundry, among others.
In other words, kick the door wide open to remote retail.
“Consumer products of any kind — be it food and beverage or others — that have historically either been bought in a traditional brick-and-mortar store or bought online,” observes Lawlor, “are now being sold in these unattended retail environments in the places that consumers work, where they transit, where they entertain themselves.”
In that sense, then, the typical vending machine is becoming more akin to a “remote retail outpost,” turning unattended retail into a predominant third channel of commerce.
What’s key to fulfilling the promise of remote retail — a key chain, or a tube of lipstick, or a t-shirt or a pair of flip-flops from a kiosk in a hotel lobby — is the advancement of cashless and digital payments. Machines that could only take cash, then later dollar bills, limited what consumers could buy. Physical credit and debit card acceptance to, more recently, accepting payment via digital wallets, such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, now expand those possibilities.
The ability to accommodate electronic payments has “dramatically increased sales in all the [unattended retail] markets,” states Lawlor, by sheer virtue of the convenience that the technology affords consumers.
Building upon that, the focus in self-serve retail is now turning towards the further enhancement of the customer experience.
In USA Technologies’ perspective, explains Lawlor, that focus “started with payments, but [it is] now migrating into how to make the consumer experience a whole lot better in the remote retail/unattended retail world and the markets that we serve.”
As part of its goal to provide a platform through which vending machine owners and operators can more robustly engage with their consumers, USA Technologies has outfitted its ePort Interactive POS display that makes it possible for brands to reach consumers — and personalize that interaction — in ways that were once difficult or even impossible.
For example, the displays will provide the nutritional and caloric information of the products in the machines, thus allowing the consumer to make more educated purchasing decisions.
And integrate promotions and loyalty and rewards programs with each purchase, any way that the vending machine operator would like to use it.
“We enable product promotions, if the various consumer product companies want to promote their products within that machine,” explains Lawlor. “Or it could be a simple loyalty rewards program that rewards the consumer for certain buying behavior.”
All of it, Lawlor emphasizes, is in service of “enabling the vending owners and operators to engage with their consumers and reward them for loyal buying at their machines.”
The technology is proving that, in today’s “remote retail” world, there can still be a personal relationship between the customer and a brand — even if only one of them is actually there in person.