The rise of vending machines post covid

It’s probably fair to say that, prior to the pandemic, very few people gave much thought to the health-and-safety aspects of vending machines. Now, however, the reassurance they offer is becoming a major selling point. To explain more, Vending Machine specialists, Cema Vending delve into the rise of vending machines post COVID.

Vending machines were always self-contained

A vending machine is, essentially, a combination of a secure product display and a self-service checkout. The inside of the vending machine only needs to be accessed periodically. Outside of periods when it is being filled, cleaned and/or maintained, the main body of the vending machine stays closed to the outside world.

Traditionally, customers ordered their goods by means of a touch panel and paid with cash, generally coins. This was, however, changing even before the pandemic. The change was driven by a desire to improve business efficiency rather than safety but the end effect is the same.

The interiors of vending machines can be kept hygienically clean

The vending-machine industry realized long ago that if it wanted to expand beyond drinks, wrapped snacks and newspapers, it had to be able to offer a hygienic environment. There are now multiple approaches it can use to making this happen.

One of the most common is to use hydrophilic finishes and/or antimicrobial film to prevent bacteria from landing on the vending machine and to kill those which do (very quickly). Some vending machines now incorporate UV-C sterilisation lights, often in the product chute. These sterilize products both effectively and quickly.

Most vending machines now accept contactless payments

Contactless payments and vending machines are a clear match for each other. Both are, essentially, about enabling quick, convenient (and convenience) purchases. The challenge was always about making the match work in practice rather than just in theory.

It took until 2007 for contactless technology to be ready for a mainstream rollout in the UK. Even then its adoption was limited. It tended to be used in places where vendors had an easily-available Plan B such as regular card payments. Very few vending machines used it and those that did also took cash. In fact, they probably did most of their sales in cash.

Over time, however, contactless technology matured and everyone benefited from this, especially the vending-machine industry. The incorporation of contactless technology into vending machines put an end to the issue of hunting for change. It also meant that transactions were faster.

Both of these facts have clear implications in a post-COVID19 environment. Fewer cash transactions means fewer opportunities for the virus to be passed through handling contaminated items. Faster transactions means less likelihood of people congregating around the vending machine.

The purchase process is now becoming touch-free

In the early days of vending machines, the purchase process could be rather hit and miss, literally. The responsiveness, or otherwise, of buttons could determine whether you got what you actually wanted or something completely different. This obviously had to be addressed and vending-machine manufacturers got onto it quickly.

Over the years, mechanical buttons were replaced by digital ones and then by touchscreens. These are now being replaced by touchless screens and smartphones. The idea behind touchless screens is that the screen senses the movement of your finger near it rather than on it.

The idea behind smartphone control is that the user controls the vending machine from their own device. For example, they could scan a QR code, pay online and then transmit a retrieval code to the vending machine via Bluetooth. Alternatively, they could “click and collect”. In other words, they could purchase online and collect from the vending machine.

It’s increasingly common for the product retrieval flap to be automated. There’s also the option to work it through touchless controls. Again, these features were around before the pandemic. They were introduced for convenience and efficiency. They are now, however, valuable safety measures.