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Issue Date: Vol. 54, No. 2, February 2014, Posted On: 1/26/2014


Digital Weight-Sensing Shelves Are Moving Vending Into The 21st Century


by Andy Franklin, Vice President of Software at ShelfX
TAGS: ShelfX, Andy Franklin, Vending Fridge, vending, vending machine, automated retailing, self-checkout, micro market, digitally connected weight sensing shelves, at shelf vending, vending operator, vending apps

SPONSORED CONTENT

Sponsor: ShelfX Inc.

Exploring how digitally connected weight sensing shelves are revolutionizing the traditional vending machine

Since the first commercial coin-operated vending machines were introduced in London, England, to dispense post cards in the late 19th century, the vending industry has grown by leaps and bounds. New innovations and ways of dispensing a variety of products have been engineered to make snacks and beverages even more convenient and accessible to the general public. And today more than ever, the traditional rotary arm dispensers that require exact change for a bag of chips or chocolate bar are becoming obsolete. Even newer mechanical-arm vending machines are falling behind the everyday Web-connected digital trend.

From an operator perspective, these traditional vending machines are expensive, have limited flexibility in terms of what kinds of products can be dispensed, and require regular visits for cash handling and inventory control. They tend to lack the intelligence of digital and automated communication and can also be very costly to operate due to a high frequency of mechanical failures with many moving parts. 

For the modern, health-conscious consumer, traditional vending machines typically forgo fresh or healthy choices, limit payment options and can leave peckish consumers feeling helpless and disappointed when that bag of pretzels does not quite make its way to the dispenser below. We have all been there. But thankfully, vending technology is evolving into the 21st century by accepting credit card or mobile payments, offering live inventory updates and statistics, and even incorporating refrigeration for fresh food items. But then, there is more.

Exploring a New Way of Vending

The modernization of vending solutions are being driven by advancements in cloud computing, Internet connectivity and mobile capabilities which are making it easier for forward-thinking vending technology companies to revolutionize how consumers shop and how retailers sell. 

Vending companies are replacing once basic rotary or robotic-arm machinery with more network-capable fixtures and communication. And while some vending companies have focused on easing the cash-handling dilemmas with mobile payment applications, other organizations like ShelfX, a provider of at-shelf buying and inventory management solutions, are pushing the envelope and also completely re-engineering the dispense mechanism.  

With Web connected, weight-sensing shelves and an easy-to manage back-end system for operators, ShelfX has developed a highly intelligent vending machine that allows customers to freely browse, shop, and purchase any quantity of fresh, healthy snacks, beverages and meals. Vending operators can now stock any items, refrigerated or not, of any volume, and make it easily available to the public. Operators can also receive real-time inventory alerts when stock is low or nearing expiry, and have the ability to dynamically change prices of items, or instantly initiate promotions to everyone, or even just specific groups of consumers. 

Available for refrigeration or not, these new vending fixtures appear as glassfront fridges and include the weight-sensing shelves inside and a locking mechanism on the exterior. These cases remain locked until a customer presents an RFID-enabled card, credit card or mobile device. With a quick swipe of the card, the user account is verified, the door is unlocked and the customer can take any quantity of their preferred item and simply close the door to complete their purchase. All the intelligence is at the shelf, which knows exactly what was taken. Powerful processing software on the back-end then charges the account for what was purchased and emails a receipt to the consumer once the door is closed and re-locked. Instantly, the inventory is updated so that the operator knows how many items are left on each shelf, which significantly boosts efficiency and offers better tools for tracking sales. 

Why More Operators Are Turning to Intelligent Vending

These at-shelf vending fixtures are engineered to turn a simple fridge into one of the most modern vending machines available. As briefly mentioned above, they provide countless advantages over traditional vending machines. But here are five main benefits that are luring more operators towards this cutting-edge vending solution:

1. Cashless Payments Reduce Hassle and Costs

Managing cash collections and replenishing change can be costly and time consuming. But with regular NFC-enabled card top-ups from customers, or credit card billing, the burden of cash management is completely forgone with this modern vending solution. Instead, monthly sales revenue is directly deposited into the operator's bank account, minus a small processing fee. All the operator is required to do is find the location, and stock the fridge. 

2. No Moving Parts Minimizes Maintenance 

Unlike traditional vending machines which use motors and complex drive mechanisms to deliver products, this new category of vending uses solid state weight sensors to know what products have been purchased. With no moving parts and cashless transactions, there is not much that can break. This leads to very low maintenance costs compared to traditional vending machines.

3. Back-End Management Improves Inventory and Promotional Control 

A powerful software management platform allows operators to not only receive instant alerts when stock is on the verge of depletion, but it also provides the ability for operators to dynamically adapt pricing on products as promotional incentive. Whether the objective is to sell off stock that is nearing its "best before" date, or to offer a special limited-time price on a new meal at peak hours such as lunch or dinner times, operators maintain full control. These promotions can either be emailed to customers based on purchase history, and/or be displayed at the vending machine. Reports can also be automated for operators to receive real-time data on individual consumer habits, re-ordering lists, or general sales. 

4. Digitally Connected Vending Leads to Greater Food Safety

Not only can operators sell fresh, healthy food, but they can also keep it safe for their consumers. According to food and safety regulations, fresh foods should be maintained at or below 41°F., and frozen foods should be kept at or below 0°F. Therefore, having a highly intelligent vending machine that is able to monitor internal temperatures and automatically go out of service if the temperature exceeds a set threshold helps operators ensure the safety of their products and keep liability claims at bay. Text message or email notifications can also be sent to operators so they can immediately address issues. 

5. At-Shelf Vending Inspires Never-Seen-Before Applications

The new weight-sensing vending technology enables automated merchandising to be deployed for product categories that were once not suitable for vending. For example, selling bagged ice or propane tanks at local c-stores can now be completely self-serve. These machines can be placed in many product-appropriate locations, becoming accessible 24/7 without supervision. In a propane tank vending application, weight sensing plays another important role by allowing operators to provide credit for empty or partially used tanks once returned. Just imagine the possibilities. 

There are far more benefits than those listed above, including the ability to customize various selling and inventory applications through an open API, add branding to each machine, and minimize theft with a number of security features. But in this technologically advanced world, operators should understand that they no longer have to contend with outdated, costly vending machines that burden them with cash handling and maintenance. Newer digitally connected solutions give the consumer more choice and the operator more control.

www.shelfx.com


Sponsored content is information provided by a company or other source. Vending Times Inc. and VendingTimes.com make no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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