This is no ordinary vending machine you’re seeing in the picture above. Even though it doesn’t look any different, it sure brings a revolutionary approach to a way customers interact with these points of sale. Long gone are the days when people used to carry pouches full of pieces o’ eight. As cash payments become less attractive to the ever-expanding generation of smartphone users, paying with a mobile device for your favorite treat is the next big thing in vending industry.
Mobile payment is not a new thing in mobile industry. While not that popular in the US where less than 5 percent of vending machines can receive mobile payments, it’s long been part of everyday life in Japan as 9 out of 10 vending machines have this capability. Yet until now it required NFC feature on your phone (in Japan’s case it’s Osaifu Keitai, based on Sony’s technology), available only in a few Android models and not supported in Apple products at all. But a small team of tech-savvy enthusiasts decided to change this.
LikeUs, a Texas based start-up, backed by a billionaire businessman Mark Cuban, has already paved the way for easy mobile interaction with vending machines in the US with their LikeUs Network. In 2013, they introduced a device than can be plugged into a regular MDB port (either split or open), enabling your vending machine to interact with the customer’s smartphone and also track their purchases. No additional parts are required, contrary to the NFC vending machines. Using either a smartphone app they developed or a mobile website (in order to identify a vending machine ID and to close the loop on the transaction) the credit is added to the machine when authorized. The app is also used to get free items. If a customer posts a message about such vending machine on a social network, they can be instantaneously rewarded with a snack or a drink.
Being a revolutionary technology, LikeUs Network still lacks one important feature – direct payment via PayPal or Google Wallet without using yet another app. And even though it sounds more like a first world problem, implementing this might boost the popularity of the system which is yet to travel across the pond to Europe.
In the meantime a local competitor has already risen. A similar system has been created by Selecta, a famous vending machine maker that has already introduced 500 PayPal vending machines in Sweden. Both iPhone and Android user can download Selecta app which in turn lets you connect it with PayPal account. The slight drawback of Selecta compared to LikeUs is the lack of support for Google Wallet, saved credit cards and other alternatives.
Both systems are yet to be introduced in the UK but it only takes one courageous step to become a frontrunner in your country. Will it be you?