The automatic distribution sector selects the key of innovation

The transformation of trade driven by the Covid-19 pandemic has the 'vending' sector as one of its main protagonists. The new vending machines incorporate innovative applications that avoid contact ('contactless', in English) such as technologies that allow selecting the product through the use of infrared that capture the user's gaze, as well as revolutionary software programs that improve the shopping experience .

"Vending is a growing trend, with a highly digitized customer profile," says Juan Carlos Gómez, vending account manager at Worldline, a company that provides payment systems for vending machines. Among other innovations, this company provides software capable of implementing technologies such as facial and voice recognition, together with interactive visualization applications to obtain more information about products or payment terminals that incorporate mobile payment systems and digital wallets. "The new needs of consumers demand increasingly intelligent vending machines that offer more information about the products and a frictionless shopping experience," says Gómez.

One of the most revolutionary technologies that emerged during the pandemic is Azkoyen's 'Distance Selection', which allows products to be selected by looking from a distance of up to two centimeters without the need to touch the surface of the machine. "The evolution of this sector will go through the introduction of more attractive machines that naturalize the experience," says Juan José Alberdi, general director of the 'coffee and vending systems' and 'payment technology' divisions of Azkoyen, a company in Navarra that is one of the world leaders in the manufacture of vending machines.

"Innovation is shown in two different lines: the product and the usability of the machine," says José Manuel Mendoza, general secretary of the Spanish National Association of Automatic Distributors (Aneda), a group that includes the companies that participate in this sector that invoices more than 1,400 million euros a year through the 380,000 machines deployed throughout the territory. Another of the innovations revolves around the use of telemetry, which allows data to be collected on the use of each machine to individually address consumption trends, explains Mendoza.

This industry had already been undergoing digital transformation for years, however, the pandemic was an economic blow to companies in the sector that has served as a push to improve the efficiency of machines and adapt to technological changes. «The Covid has been a very complicated period for the entire vending sector because most of the machines have been stopped. The good news is that the sector is returning to pre-pandemic numbers,” says Mendoza.

Now, in the post-pandemic, teleworking policies and new forms of conciliation they make this business model have a different approach. “Users demand a more diversified offer of healthier and more differentiated products. In the case of coffee, this demand translates into the introduction of different specialty coffees," says Alberdi, from Azkoyen.

This trend of increasingly including healthier products It represents a change in the foods that vending machines traditionally offered, normally associated with salty and sweet products such as bags of chips, soft drinks and chocolates. "The Covid put many companies on the tightrope and pushed them to rethink all their operations," says Gómez, from Worldline, who emphasizes that the profile of the consumer who uses these machines is that of a more conscious one who seeks more ethical products. , ecological and sustainable.

sustainable challenge

Sustainability is one of the most important challenges facing the sector, says Gómez. There are currently regulations that seek to mitigate the impact on the environment with policies to reduce single-use cups, so there are machines in the sector that include processes that allow these containers to be recycled. “We are a sector that is being greatly limited in this regard, especially in public tenders. Products are demanded that are not consumed later and generate losses for companies”, says Mendoza, from Aneda.

Manufacturers are also innovating to create machines that consume less energy and, in some cases, can be connected to renewable generation systems such as solar panels.

And the transformation is not only happening in the part that the consumer sees, but also new artificial intelligence technologies and cloud-based solutions are being developed that seek to facilitate remote control of maintenance and inventory, which reduces interventions and machine reviews. "The 'vending' is a sector in which a great differential can be achieved if a complete digitization of the business is really deployed," says Mendoza.

"The new technologies allow us to monitor machines in real time, which substantially improves customer service and reduces logistics and maintenance complications," says Alberdi, who comments that other trends that have been imposed in the sector include the new digital and cloud payment methods. With all these strategies, the sector seeks to increase the perception of value provided by vending machines, one of the main challenges facing the industry, according to Alberdi. "The time has come to demystify the concept of 'vending,'" he concludes.

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