Vending machines are not just about fizzy drink, chocolate and chips anymore.
Wireless technologies that enable credit card purchases are spurring companies to market a wider variety of items from vending machines — everything from suntan lotion to golf balls to consumer electronics.
Say, for example, your cellphone dies and you desperately need to replace it. These days you can simply buy a new one from a vending machine. How about a new pair of shoes?
"Cashless is really opening up the marketplace for what one would call very high-ticket items," says Steve Herbert, president and chief operating officer for USA Technologies. His company's e-Port hardware, which can be installed in vending machines, handles credit card processing, tracks inventory and monitors the "health and welfare" of the machines, alerting technicians in case of trouble.
The device, used by customers including Motorola and Reebok, includes a general packet radioservice cellular connection. While the wireless credit card payment capability solves the problem of requiring end users to stuff $100 or more in cash into a machine, it also solves a related problem. At $4 or more for a fizzy drink, the currency systems in a soda machine can fill up before the machine is empty, Herbert says, cutting into potential sales and profits. Operators want to allow users to buy with credit cards in order to be able to sell every last item in the machine.
The e-Port and related software also fuel a variety of wireless applications beyond vending. Sony uses software from USA Technologies in digital photo printing kiosks to enable credit card authorisation and head off problems. For example, if paper runs out, the software tells a technician that it's time for a refill.