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Old school vending gets new school technology

Interactive touchscreen technology has helped to create a new wave of intelligent vending kiosks, producing a more immersive and personalized experience for the customer and a growing trend toward automated retail processes.

Capitalizing on this trend, the Utah-based company AirVend released its solution to provide existing vending machines with the upgrades they need to keep pace with advances in technology, consumer expectations and one slightly controversial piece of legislation — the Affordable Care Act.

Commonly referred to as Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act includes provisions that require vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines to disclose calorie content for certain items. AirVend CMO David Loveland explained that while the mandate has been set, the government has not supplied vending machine operators with how to provide the nutritional information or how they plan to enforce the regulation.

Enter AirVend's retrofit interactive touchscreens, which the company said can turn federal law compliance into a strategy to increase sales.

"Our target market is unattended retail in general," said Loveland. "Anywhere there is a purchase without a person present. The catalyst here for vending is that the government will require operators to post nutritional information."

Machines that support a multidrop computer bus, a.k.a. an MDB, can integrate the company's 7-inch capacitive touchscreen, remote monitoring system and cashless payment methods, transforming them from archaic to cutting edge, and preparing them for any future enforcement of the health care law, the company said.

"As a software engineer and technologist, it always pained me to see such a lack of technology in the industry," said Chad Francis, founder of AirVend, in yesterday's product announcement. "My team and I are very pleased to be in a position to make a real difference."

Along with graphic displays of the machine's product offerings and caloric information, the AV 7 device is compatible with cashless payment options like NFC via Google Wallet and Isis, and is wirelessly connected to AV Live, the company's cloud-based system providing real-time sales data, machine alerts and inventory tracking to operators.

An advertising platform and loyalty program are additional features still in development, Loveland said. Local business will have the ability to showcase promotions on the touchscreen, and national brands will be able highlight products that are sold in the machine. Although the 7-inch form-factor of the screen is small in comparison to the size of the machine itself, Loveland said it will still be effective in attracting customers.

"The smaller 5-inch screen I think is a little bit more questionable," Loveland said, referring to the smaller model of the AV device. "But customers engage with the vending machines because they are coming to them to purchase something. When you see a screen on a vending machine, it grabs your attention."

Loveland added that its loyalty program currently in the works will be another attention grabber and sales booster for operators.

"One of the innovative things we are doing is facial recognition and biometrics," Loveland said. "Each of our pieces of hardware has that on there. It is anonymous biometric that won't know the user's name but will know that they were there several times that week, for example, so it can open it up to loyalty programs."

With over-the-air software updates, the AV 7 platform allows for additions such as the loyalty and advertising programs to flow to the machines as they become available, Loveland said. He declined to disclose price points for the product but said that the proliferation of new technologies helps keep the solution affordable.

"The release of Android, a free operating system, as well as the consumerization of tablets and smartphones, has commoditized small, powerful computing devices and components," Loveland said. "Making mobile hardware solutions for business use is much more affordable than ever before."

Read more about vending kiosks.

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