We have been talking about technologies related to what we now call IoT sensors for several decades. However, the affirmation of the Internet of Things only occurred much more recently, thanks to the definition of precise standards. There has been a real explosion of IoT devices in a short time, to the extent that nowadays the Internet of Things can be found in various contexts.
From smart cities to manufacturing, from the medical world to wearable devices, IoT sensors allow the collection of a myriad of data. Even a somewhat unusual sector, compared to traditional IT applications, such as vending has been invaded by IoT devices, which have brought a wave of innovation and a series of benefits.
Over 4 million machines
According to the most recent estimates by the European Vending & Coffee Service Association (EVA), a non-profit organization representing the interests of the European coffee service and vending industry, there are over 4 million vending machines, 80% of which are in the workplace. It should be noted that 2.5 million of them are hot drinks vending machines (mainly coffee).
Someone may think: what innovations can be applied to coffee machines? Many, thanks to IoT sensors. Both for the benefit of those who use them and those who manage them.
IoT sensors in beverage dispensers
Nowadays, vending machines are connected to the Internet and this offers those who manage them various opportunities to reduce operating costs. For example, cloud-based telemetry solutions allow remote diagnosis and even certain types of interventions, thereby reducing machine downtime and support costs. This means vending machines remain in contact with their operators, sending notifications in real time that report any technical or supply issues.
Using IoT sensors, it is also possible to perform predictive maintenance, identifying excessively worn parts so that they can be replaced before they fail. By harnessing the potential of the cloud, intelligent machines can save on purchasing costs by leveraging the dynamic and optimized management of supplies.
Sales always under control
As mentioned, the same telemetry solutions used to monitor the status of machines also provide information on sales, updated in real time. This allows a calibration of the offering according to consumer preferences, for example by expanding the choice of the most popular products and eliminating the least bought ones. A further opportunity for interpreting and analyzing the data collected is to assess whether there has been a change in consumption, as well as what that change has been, following a variation in prices.
When technology permits, it is also possible to automate and streamline management activities by connecting vending machines to back-office databases or corporate systems, such as an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).
Artificial intelligence enters the world of vending
Nowadays, the use of vending machines extends beyond hot drinks. Indeed, there are vending machines for various types of products or tickets for means of transport, which can act as kiosks for printing photos or which operate as payment terminals or charging stations for personal devices. The common denominator of the latest generation of vending machines is the inclusion of a system equipped with a large-format touch display, which allows easier management and enables smart sales and payment processes. In the best of cases, there are IoT edge devices that guarantee high computational ability directly inside the vending machine. That allows artificial intelligence and data analytics to be used to deliver tailored purchasing experiences.
These IoT sensors are flanked by intelligent man-machine interfaces and control systems that can function in a network and allow greater energy efficiency of machine peripherals. IoT sensors also permit the transfer of sales data to the cloud using telemetry and the interconnection of consolidated and touchless payment systems. In addition, the technology also allows machines to be integrated with each other and communicate directly.
With the IoT, it is the vending machine that creates loyalty
Modern vending machines are designed to offer the customer the most satisfying purchasing experience possible, regardless of what they are buying. Furthermore, again thanks to the IoT, it is possible to enable interactive sales and payment processes, which allow the integration of loyalty, e-couponing and personalized advertising functions. By so doing, a machine can be used for cross-selling or up-selling, thereby increasing the average purchase value and consolidating the relationship with customers, as well as acquiring new ones.