Mobile pay, AI, biometrics bringing new muscle to automatic merchandising

| by Elliot Maras
Mobile pay, AI, biometrics bringing new muscle to automatic merchandising

Photo iStock

Automatic merchandising, once a "cottage industry" that played second fiddle to larger retail channels, is finding new relevance as brands keep pushing for more opportunities to reach the consumer.

This much was evident at the recent National Automatic Merchandising Association show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The trade show floor featured POS equipment tailored to a consumer who is more comfortable with mobile order and pay, as well as other technologies.  

Exhibits featured Bluetooth-enabled 4G LTE connectivity, digital advertising screens, cloud-enabled backend software, advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics, biometric identity verification and digital signage, creating new ways for unattended POS equipment to engage the consumer. 

Following are some highlights from the trade show floor:

Paul McDonald was looking for brand partners
for Bodega at the NAMA show.

Bodega steps forward

Bodega, a 5-foot-wide pantry box filled with nonperishable convenience items that customers purchase using their smartphones, made its official debut at the show. Bodega generated a media firestorm last fall when it began testing its self-serve kiosks and was accused of being culturally insensitive because of its name.

An app allows customers to unlock the kiosk. Once they select products, cameras powered with computer vision register what they've picked up and activate a credit card transaction. 

Company co-founder Paul McDonald told Kiosk Marketplace that one purpose for exhibiting at NAMA was to find brands interested in partnering with Bodega as product suppliers. The company plans to operate the machines itself as opposed to selling them to other convenience services operators.

Bodega has received funding from executives at Google, Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox.


Lee Mokri wants to share Byte Foods technology with other operators.

Byte Foods' sensors scan machine inventory

The Byte Foods refrigerated glass-front merchandiser has an electronic screen at the top left displaying a menu and the ingredients and price for each item. Customers open the machine door by swiping their payment card.

Each item in the machine has an RFID tag embedded in its packaging that automatically charges the card once the customer removes the item from the machine.

When the door closes, sensors automatically scan the inventory and activate the charge.

The company's demand-planning algorithms closely watch what is being purchased and make recommendations based on individual purchase behavior. This enables the company to tailor meals to individual locations based on customer feedback.

The machine also has an inventory management system that allows the operator to monitor machine inventories remotely in real time.

Like Bodega, Byte Foods is both the provider and operator of the technology. Byte Foods, however, provides its technology to other convenience service operators, as well.


Tom Murn presents IA-powered "Vicki"
at the ViaTouch Media booth.

ViaTouch Media displays AI-powered kiosk

The Vicki machine from ViaTouch Media utilizes artificial intelligence to allow shoppers to take a product from the shelf and examine it before making a purchase. When the product is removed from the shelf, a video screen above the door plays content related to that product. 

The customer also can ask questions and get answers about products in the machine, thanks to its audio technology.

If the customer returns the product to the shelf, there is no purchase. If the customer takes the product, their payment account is billed automatically, thanks to the sensors embedded in the shelf.

Vicki also uses iris authentication technology, which recognizes and authenticates the customer. The AI system gets to know customer preferences and then acts upon them, serving as a virtual clerk. Once the machine detects the customer's presence, it uses directed audio technology to communicate with that individual in a personalized manner.


Ran Margalit presents the Shelfx
concept with weight-sensing shelves.

Shelfx utilizes weight-sensing shelves

Shelfx offers an automated merchandising and inventorying merchandiser that uses weight-sensing shelves and near field communication identification technology.

Customers open the glass-front machine by swiping a payment card or using a mobile app to scan a QR code on the machine. They are then charged for items taken from the shelves.

The shopper receives an email receipt. Payment authentication options include fingerprint and facial recognition.

The cloud-based software lets customers set up and manage their account online and lets merchants manage operations with a mobile-based management application. As long as customers keep a minimum $10 balance on the app, they can continue to buy from the machine.

The cloud-based software also enables mobile and remote management of the machine, and sends email alerts for unauthorized access, temperature changes and system failure. If the cooler temperature rises above a desired threshold, the system will not unlock the door for consumers.


PopCom uses facial recognition

One self-serve kiosk on display — PopCom — presented a way for e-commerce retailers to establish a physical presence, which can make it easier for customers to retrieve orders placed online.

If those orders include alcohol, pharmaceuticals or marijuana, the interactive PopCom kiosk uses facial recognition to ensure that the customer is legally permitted to buy the product.

Management software collects customer demographic information at the point of sale. It also monitors inventory, captures sales data and generates insights for lead generation.

PopCom will offer an API to allow existing kiosks to use its proprietary software.


Kevin Galaida with the Breakroom Provisions micro market kiosk.

Micro markets keep on rocking

Micro markets, which convenience service operators in recent years have embraced more aggressively than any other retail or foodservice channel, were once again prevalent at the NAMA trade show.

The micro market is an unattended retail concept offering consumers open product shelving. 

The micro market includes a separate self-checkout kiosk that enables automated cashless payment.

Dewey Wahlin, left, and Todd Westby show
the Three Square Market kiosk.

Micro markets have been the fastest growing segment within the convenience services industry since they were introduced in 2006.

There were close to 18,000 micro market locations at the end of 2016, according to the 2016 BandA Micro Market Report released by Bachtelle and Associates.

The number of installed micro market payment kiosks increased 39.3 percent from 2015 to 2016, for a total of 19,142 payment kiosks.

Amber Tucker and Dennis Yen present
a new kiosk from 365 Retail Markets.

Micro markets providers exhibiting at the NAMA show included: Avanti Markets; 365 Retail Markets; Breakroom Provisions Inc.; Three Square Market; and Vendors Exchange International Inc.

Two technology providers, Yoke Payments and TriTeq Lock and Security, teamed up on a solution that can turn any cooler or cabinet into a controlled access micro market.

By downloading the Yoke mobile app or using a Yoke self-checkout terminal, a customer can purchase a product from a cooler secured with a TriTeq lock.

Matt Friedlander, right, demoed the Vendors Exchange micro market for Ben Diaz Jr.

Once  payment is accepted, the door will unlock.

Customers can make a one-off purchase using a credit card, or draw on funds preloaded onto their account.

Customers simply use the "lookup item" function to add products to the shopping cart and press "buy now" to execute the transaction.

Real-time sales and inventory information is passed back to an inventory management system.


Larry Henry presents the Digital
Checkouts self-order kiosk.

Technology supports on-site food prep

Some of the technologies on display at NAMA had application to expediting orders in cafeterias where food is prepared on site.

A self-service kiosk from startup Digital Checkouts allows patrons to place and pay for orders at corporate cafeterias. 

Food is prepared in a nearby kitchen before being moved to the serving counter.

After the customer places an order, it order appears on a digital screen in the kitchen. The preparer assembles the order, then taps the screen to send the message to another screen notifying the patron that the order is ready. 

There is no need for the patron to place the order at the counter, wait for the order or pay a cashier.

One foodservice operator who has used the system, Ray Friedrich, owner of Sterling Services in Sterling, Michigan, told Kiosk Marketplace that it has significantly changed the economics of corporate cafeterias.


Stephen Hoopes presents a Swyft pickup locker.

Swyft displays pickup locker

Swyft, a provider of automated retail hardware and software, presented an 18-square-foot parcel pickup locker to meet the growing demand for omnichannel fulfillment solutions.

The lockers serve as both pickup and dropoff points for customers.

Swyft's software-as-a-service solution allows retailers to bridge the inefficiencies of last-mile operations while improving customer convenience. 

The system offers video monitoring with call center integration and is ADA compliant. The locker can be freestanding or positioned against a wall.


Seaga presents inventory control machine

Seaga Vending demonstrated its intelligent inventory control machine that enables businesses to manage product dispensed to employees. The machine comes with software that allows for inventory tracking and just-in-time reordering.

Mark Farshtchi presents an inventory control
dispenser at the Seaga booth.

Inventory control is a rapidly expanding market that is no longer confined to industrial tools and personal protective products.

In recent years, big technology providers have found inventory dispensing machines useful in managing computer supplies for their employees.

The Seaga machine incorporates a secure cabinet and enables access to the items via employee code or card scanning.

The system records date and the time when an item was dispensed. The machine's coil style cabinet can manage safety supplies, tooling, IT supplies and more. 

Several of the NAMA exhibits demonstrated robotic technology in automated retail equipment.


Lauren Weinstein shows an automated retail machine from Fastcorp.

Fastcorp demos robotic vacuum delivery

Fastcorp Vending uses robotic vacuum delivery to retrieve products from the machine's cabinet. It then places them in a delivery bin.

The machine features a touch screen display, a glass keypad and a 22-inch digital media player.

Payment options include credit card, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Vagabond, Viv and PayRange.


Chowbotics offers robotic salad-maker

Shelley Jones presents Sally the salad
robot at the Chowbotics booth.

Chowbotics Inc. demonstrated a robotic machine that features 21 ingredients and can create any one of more than 1,000 types of salads within approximately 60 seconds.

The technology ensures precise caloric counts and can produce a seven-component salad. 

Technology also continues to evolve for the more traditional vending equipment market, with more machines using digital touchscreens, remote machine monitoring and mobile payment acceptance.


Jose Iribarren presents the Open24 Market 
at the Jofemar booth.

Jofemar introduces Open24 Market

The Open24 Market from Jofemar features a bank of glass-front machines controlled by a 27-inch touch screen. 

Customers use the touch screen to purchase items displayed in the machines. The system's conveyor delivery system can dispense up to 350 selections, weighing from one ounce to eight pounds.


Beijing Fuelei demos 'Three Go'

Bo Chen, left, and Jack Lin present Three Go,
an automated convenience store.

Beijing Fuelei Tech Co. Ltd. introduced "Three Go," which it calls a self-service convenience store.

The device features a touchpad that shoppers use to make purchases from the machines. Customers  can also place orders online and retrieve them at the machines using a one-time code.

The machines accept WeChat, Alipay and other forms of mobile and electronic payment.


InOne Technology demos convenience dispenser

Arnie Levin shows a single-cup coffee cartridge dispenser at the InOne Technology booth.

InOne Technology, a vending technology provider, introduced a single-unit dispenser for controlling a variety of convenience products, such as coffee pods, snacks, electronics, first aid items and travel aid products.

The Roundabout, which is approximately 15 by 30 inches in size, accepts cashless swipe, chip and contactless forms of payment, including Apple Pay, Google Pay, Visa payWave and credit cards.

Topics: Customer Experience, Customer Service, Mobile Payments, Mobile Retail, Technology

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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