Crane Merchandising Systems will unveil a new vending machine platform at the National Automatic Merchandising Association's OneShow this month in Las Vegas. The line features integrated cashless payment capability, wireless and Ethernet network access and contemporary user interface options, all "right out of the box."
The company is the vending and payment business unit of Crane Co. (Stamford, CT), with offices in Bridgeton, MO, and manufacturing facilities in Williston, SC. Crane explained that the Media concept was developed to bring the experience of shopping at vending machines in line with the expectations and desires of today's consumers.
The next-generation line of snack, cold beverage and food venders will be marketed under the "Media" brand. The series has been conceived to chart a new course in machine design that will deliver a more engaging, rewarding and reliable customer experience.
"The solution is long overdue," said Tom Edwards, Crane Merchandising Systems vice-president of global food and beverage initiatives. "It answers a need by being built around the consumer, who has never been linked into the equation effectively."
The new vending platform is the culmination of three years of development inspired by NAMA research that identified lack of consumer confidence in vending as a root cause of declines in same-store sales in recent years. Consumers cited high product cost, low value, worn and dirty machines and the lack of cashless acceptance, among factors that deterred them from using vending machines.
"We built the Media platform to attack those issues and to help restore consumer confidence," Edwards said. He added that the goals of the new equipment offering align with those of NAMA's Industry Growth Strategy, which aims to revitalize vending by engaging 18- to 27-year-old "Gen Y" consumers, communicating a positive message and changing obsolete paradigms.
"Media represents revolutionary change in technology, functionality, look and feel. These combined attributes are changing consumer perception and driving growth," Edwards explained. "There is opportunity to forge stronger relationships with current users, and to make a stronger appeal to nonusers."
Crane's Media machines are designed to turn heads and draw consumers with sleek, modern styling highlighted by a high-impact LED lighting scheme, which conveys high technology.
In the vanguard of the new line are the Merchant Media snack vender and BevMax Media drink machine. Both have larger cabinet footprints than their predecessors, permitting increased product variety to spur incremental sales. The added capacity also allows for more inventory on site, reducing out-of-stocks and service visits.
The new snack machines can support up to 50% more spirals than standard five-wide models, and the beverage venders can accommodate 10 additional selections, amounting to 80 more bottles (three-plus cases) of additional inventory. Both variations offer powerful product presentation through a wide glass front.
A new delivery door on the Merchant Media is one of several key consumer-focused improvements. When the user pushes the door downward, the bottom of the bin elevates to present the purchased product in full view, eliminating the need to fish around in a dark bin to retrieve a purchase.
The new BevMax Media uses the theatrical appeal of an XY-positioning robotic arm to conveniently deliver cold drinks, upright and in full view, through a newly designed delivery port.
The delivery mechanisms, along with the two machines' user interfaces and payment systems, comply with the new ADA requirements.
photo | GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE: Crane Merchandising Systems' Media user interface borrows from e-commerce to engage and inform the consumer throughout the shopping process. It's offered as a 7" standalone vertical touchscreen (left) or smaller horizontal color LCD that works in conjunction with an accompanying keypad. Both are used to browse items by category, view nutritional information, make one or more selections, see promotions and choose payment method.
EASY TO SHOP
The Media vending machine platform is available with two distinct user interfaces. The first is a horizontal color LCD screen that prompts the patron to use an adjacent keypad. Alternatively, machines can be equipped with a larger 7" vertical full-color touchscreen. Both leverage the merchandising and promotion practices of Internet retail sites and consumers' comfort level with shopping online. They're designed to drive increased transactional spending, promote brands, build loyalty and deliver value to the consumer.
The patron can select any number of items in a single transaction by adding them to an onscreen "shopping cart," a familiar e-commerce icon. Patrons can also "browse" product categories and view nutrition information on the display. They have the option to "buy more" or "purchase" at any time; they can also cancel the transaction. Payment can be inserted before or after making a selection.
EASY TO PROMOTE
On-screen advertisements and promotions can help drive sales throughout the transaction. If a patron selects a bag of chips, for example, the screen might display a bottle of water, which can easily be added to the cart at a touch of the screen or keypad. A discount can also be offered when the customer chooses to bundle products in this manner. After completing the transaction, another promotion might invite the patron to text a code from a cellphone to obtain free products.
Crane said data gathered during field trials with major brand owners suggests that sales can increase 100% by simply displaying a product advertisement at the time of purchase.The company will provide operators with programmable promotion templates to facilitate implementation.
"Only one out of five vend shoppers know the specific item they are going to buy when approaching the machine," Edwards observed. "With the Media platform, we can influence the consumer's impulse purchase. Media creates interest, drives participation and builds value by engaging the consumer before, during and after the sale."
Crane describes its new Media platform as a breakthrough in the ability it gives operators to deliver product manufacturers return on investment of their marketing dollars.
"It's a way to pull them back in," Edwards explained. "If the industry is going to be restored, it's going to take the contributions of multiple players, and brand owners are among them.
"Promoting has always been a push into the operator's businesses, and suppliers have not been able to get mileage out of their investments," the industry veteran continued. "Now they can do brand promotions at the machine level and see incremental growth from each point of sale. It will get suppliers more engaged in the vending channel and encourage brands to reallocate marketing dollars currently used in other channels into vending."
Promotions can be run at a single location or multiple sites, and Crane says it also has the scale afforded by its extensive operator customer base to drive national campaigns.
For each consumer interaction at a Media machine, Crane can provide brand marketers with detailed real-time data, including the types of machine and location, as well as payment usage and denomination. It can also offer activity time-stamps for the first consumer touch at the machine and products selected and vended, along with the animations displayed during the transaction and promotions redeemed.
EASY TO PAY
Another first in Crane's Media platform is a payment system fully integrated with its user interface. This provides transaction information and interactive communication on a single message display, replacing the multiple indicators and removing the limitations of the one- or two-line text displays that have long been the industry standard. The available payment systems are highlighted by illuminated credit, cash and coin bezels.
Patrons are offered the choice of paying with coins (5¢ to $1), $1 to $20 notes, credit cards and "electronic wallets." Bill recyclers are standard and dispense $1 or $5 notes as change, encouraging use of high-denomination bills. Users can insert payment before or after entering their product selections.
An interactive message display tracks purchases, and animated graphics guide consumers through the payment process. The display also informs customers that product delivery is guaranteed, or their money will be returned, and provides the operator's phone number to report problems and request refunds.
"Feedback is critically important to building consumer confidence, especially with cashless transactions," Edwards emphasized.
The Media vending machines directly monitor the payment peripherals, with no vending management software required, and send the operator a mobile alert if a fault is detected. "No other event is more harmful to the industry's reputation than a malfunctioning machine with an 'out-of-order' sign on it" said Edwards. He reported that 70% of consumer complaints revolve around payment issues, including a machine's inability to accept bills or coins, or a requirement to pay with exact change only.
EASY TO CONNECT
The plug-and-play machines come equipped with the wireless infrastructure needed to execute cashless payments, monitor sales data, and display over-the-air nutrition information and advertising content. Crane projects that 65% of all vending machines will be networked over the next five years, with its new platform helping to accelerate adoption.
PHOTO: Crane's Media graphical display allows product manufacturers and operators to promote brands at the point of sale, encourage multiple purchases and reward consumers for their loyalty. Screen shots above illustrate bundled chip and beverage promotion, "text to win" free product giveaway and "buy two, get one free" offer.
photo | ALL IN ONE: Media's payment system is fully integrated into the user interface. An interactive message display tracks purchases and animations guide patron through the payment process. Users can view the shopping cart, "buy more" or "purchase" at any time. Illuminated credit, cash and coin bezels flag payment acceptance points.
Edwards emphasized that the Media platform is completely scalable, allowing operators to choose to use "a little or a whole lot." Cross-platform retrofit solutions are also available to bring legacy equipment up to date with features that approximate Media's capabilities.
The vending machine manufacturer's business communications network is built on a telemetry platform that includes a large memory, fast processor and the ability to accommodate online upgrades.
Crane's new Atlas electronics platform is driven by a computer optimized for NAMA open standards to increase the operator's hardware and software connection possibilities. It supports multiple carrier technologies and conventional Ethernet for machine-to-machine networking.
MDB data can be used for more accurate advanced fault alerting and retail performance analysis. Dual USB ports enable the machine to support future consumer-engaging applications, such as cameras for social networking, among others. The technology is forward and backward compatible with legacy DEX-equipped machines by way of Crane's Currenza Navigator software.
SO FAR, SO GOOD
Crane tested nine pre-pilot Media machines in corporate, healthcare and university venues over a six-month period and reported an average 34% sales increase, or $3,100 annually per machine.
The company also reported that the new venders received high favorability ratings from consumers. Users said both the snack and beverage machines were "visually appealing," which they defined as being "attractive," "eye-catching" and "clean." They also regarded the machines as being technologically advanced, reliable and in many ways superior to other vending machines.
"We have tested our work in labs and in the field," Edwards concluded. "We have collaborated with vending operators, consumers and our consumer packaged goods partners. Our results look promising as we approach the official launch date with enthusiasm."
Crane Merchandising Systems has a long history of vending innovation. The first National machine appeared in 1926, and National Vendors was formed in 1933. Long renowned for its candy, pastry and cigarette machines, the company expanded to full-line equipment manufacturing in 1967. It was acquired by Crane Co. in 1985, and was joined in the Crane Merchandising Systems unit by Automatic Products international ltd. in 2006, and by Dixie-Narco a year later.