No Buttons To Push. Talk To The Vending Machines.

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 8/20/2018

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Paul Schlossberg
Do you have Alexa, Siri or Google Home at home or in the office? People are now saying "Add milk to my shopping list" or "Set a reminder at 4 p.m." or "Increase the thermostat temperature to 75 degrees."

In my recent blog, (The Competition Is Coming For You. Are You Ready? Probably Not!) the discussion included the fact that Amazon is working on bringing Alexa to the office. That continues to be a serious competitive threat.   

Let's turn the subject of voice-activated shopping completely around. How can we, as an industry, move forward aggressively with voice-enabled ordering? How can we integrate it with payment capabilities?

Getting to voice-activated shopping would be a good way to overcome the "B-O-B Factor." Compared to other shopping alternatives, especially buying on line or using an app, vending is at risk of being Bland-Old-Boring.

These systems and capabilities already exist. Existing patented technologies can be adapted for the next phase of vending. It can also be applied to micromarket sales, as you will see.

You might be thinking "So what? Why should we care about investing in our vending equipment and systems?" We are at risk of falling behind other competitors who are beginning to apply voice-activated shopping systems. Let me give you a few examples.  

Coca-Cola is working with Amazon Echo
on suggestive selling to add beverages with delivery orders. They can, in fact, recommend a drink choice which matches up with the food being ordered. Why can't we do that?

Sheetz, the Altoona, PA based convenience store chain, is known for its MTO food menu. In-store shoppers can order sandwiches, salads and more. The food is made-to-order.  

Now Sheetz is offering voice ordering capabilities. Shoppers must be registered with a Sheetz online ordering account. It requires an Alexa-enabled device or use of the Alexa App. It's as simple and logging in and then saying "Alexa start sheetz" or "Alexa, Order My Favorite From Sheetz." After that, Alexa will help you complete the order. Why can't we do that?

Target and Google Express are moving ahead in a partnership to simplify online shopping. In October 2017, they announced that the program would roll out nationwide. According to a Target press release, "…shopping will soon be available via the Google Assistant on eligible Android phones and iPhones, joining Google Home and Android TV, will allow Target guests to make their "Target run" from a phone solely using voice commands, a first for the company."  Why can't we do that?

USA Today reported that "Amazon has developed a new Alexa for hotels; Marriott and others are testing it out." It is Alexa for Hospitality. It is a new adaptation of its Amazon Echo. The article goes on to mention that "…among the functions Alexa can offer to hotel guests (are):

● Controlling smart room devices, such as lights, curtains, the thermostat and television set

● Ordering and playing music

● Booking spa appointments

● Calling the concierge for recommendations

● Booking reservations

● Finding out where hotel amenities such as the restaurant and pool are located, as well as what their hours are

● Learning how to access the Wi-Fi networks

● Setting timers, wake up calls and more

● Calling maintenance and housekeeping…

An in-room system like this can be a potentially huge benefit for the hotels and their guests. The hotel does not need extra staff to answer inquiries (which Alexa can now resolve). This is an example where everyone wins.

For the guest, it means a quick connection and accurate answers for questions or problems. Changing the temperature in a hotel room requires that you get up and search for the thermostat. Not necessary to do that with Alexa in your hotel room. Just say something like, "Increase the temperature by one degree." Or you can order dinner quickly without having to deal with an endless wait for room service to pick up the phone.  Why can't we do that?

It probably won't be too long before voice-activated capabilities are available in even more retail stores and other service businesses. Why can't we do that?

If you have an active Alexa or Siri or Google Home, think about how those same capabilities can be offered to your shoppers. We need to work hard to overcome the "B-O-B Factor". Talk with your current and potential suppliers about voice-activated ordering and payment systems. Are there beta-test programs you could deploy at some of your more tech-savvy locations? This could be a new, and interesting, way to sell more stuff.

» Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached at or (972) 877-2972 or