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PayRange's Patel Discusses Latest Features For Its Vending Machine Payment System

Posted On: 6/29/2016

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TAGS: cashless vending, mobile payments, vending operators, cashless mobile-payment capability, PayRange, Paresh Patel, Bluetooth payment system, vending machine technology, NAMA OneShow

CHICAGO -- Vending operators today must answer five questions when planning to add cashless mobile-payment capability to their equipment, according to PayRange founder Paresh Patel. Offering an overview of the newly expanded PayRange system, Patel recalled that he was an operator himself (he founded Portland, OR's Courtesy Vending while still in college, and built it into one of the Pacific Northwest's largest independent operations). The challenges he confronted prompted him to invent novel solutions, of which a Bluetooth payment system is the latest.

The five key questions for vendors seeking to boost sales and profits by meeting the market's demand for convenience and versatility are:

1. How to deploy the mobile-payment solution in the most efficient, trouble-free manner.

2. How to convert existing patrons who are accustomed to paying cash at the vending machine to the new cashless option.

3. How to promote loyalty through use of the payment system.

4. How to restore the confidence of consumers in the reliability of vending machines.

5. How to keep the system 100% mobile.

With those five questions in mind, Patel explained, he devised PayRange.

Using The Patron's Network

The PayRange system is based on a small, low-cost Bluetooth transceiver that simply is plugged in between a vending machine's existing payment system and controller board. The user simply downloads an app (Apple iOS or Android) and establishes an account, after which the phone can be used to make purchases from a PayRange-enabled vender. The vending machine itself does not need an Internet connection at all; the customer's phone provides the wireless wide-area network, and the PayRange service handles the necessary transaction processing and recording. It also can keep track of points earned in loyalty programs.

PayRange, Paresh Patel
NO TOOLS: PayRange founder Paresh Patel demonstrates the simplicity of installing a PayRange BluKey local-area Bluetooth transceiver in a vending machine at a demonstration conducted during the NAMA OneShow.

Patel explained that PayRange can be deployed very quickly because it is so simple; a driver can deploy six of them a day. "It's much easier than a card reader, which must be installed by a mechanic," he said.

The company founder demonstrated the speed and ease with which a BluKey can be added to an existing machine. A driver equipped with a smartphone need only open the box, remove the device and the decal for users, disconnect the payment system harness, add the BluKey inline and reconnect the harness. An LED indicator on the device lights up when the circuit is restored; it will turn blue when the new installation is registered.

Plug And Play

With the BluKey inserted into the circuit, the next step is to scan its barcode, then enter a vending machine identity number when prompted. This associates the BluKey with that particular vender. Another prompt then asks for the location. "The installation program then tells you to affix a decal to the inside and take a picture of the machine," Patel noted. "Once the requested information has been sent to the server, no one else has to do anything."

In use, the customer's phone identifies itself to the BluKey-equipped machine, and the vending machine identifies itself over the phone's wireless network to the PayRange server. The server returns an acknowledgment to the BluKey, enabling the patron to make a selection from the machine and deducting the price from the customer's PayRange account balance.

Patel explained that PayRange has been adding functionality to the system since its introduction in March 2014. New features at the time of the National Automatic Merchandising Association's 2016 OneShow in April include the ability to track collections and report machine sales. Sales reports can be run by day, week, month and year; collections are tallied when the driver visits the machine. "In 'operator' mode, the BluKey uploads the meter reading, as well as pending transactions, mobile and cash," Patel said. "It also can provide a sales history. This feature is included at no additional cost."

Experience has shown that the majority of vending patrons will download the PayRange app while standing at the machine, in order to make a purchase. "So we said, 'Let's make it easy to do that.' There's no sign-in 'wall.' They get into the app as soon as they download it; they can see the offers and get information," Patel explained. "They just can't make purchases until they create an account."

That also is easy to do. "Just hit 'new user' and the app will ask you for a phone number. It then instructs you to repeat a displayed code; when you've done that, it logs you in," the PayRange founder said. "And you can make a purchase before loading credit." The system also offers a way to add funds to an account with a credit card simply by taking a picture of it, as well as the ability to transfer funds with Apple Pay by means of a thumbprint. And it now supports location requests for a payroll-deduction vending payment solution for their employees.

PayRange servers do not store credit card numbers, and a PCI-compliant processor handles the transactions.

Merchandising

PayRange provides a number of options for sales promotion, Patel said. "The system can 'push' an offer to the customer immediately after a vend: 'Go back and get 50% off Gardetto's snacks,'" he instanced. "It captures user data: who made the purchase and what was bought. And it can mix 'offers' with a loyalty program; points can be earned by using the machine, whether for a promoted product or not. It can combine ways to earn points -- and you get this data." The system also can enable customers to use their points to get discounts.

The PayRange app also permits patrons to report machine malfunctions, and the system can speed and simplify giving refunds. This can strengthen consumers' confidence in vending equipment, Patel observed. Now under development at a large client location is an extension of the refund program for vending patrons without smartphones. It's a kiosk installed in or near the vending bank, equipped with a tablet that customers can use to report problems and request refunds. "The operator can review the complaint and, if it's authorized, can designate the machine that will make the refund from its changer."