In a Nutshell: The self-service retail industry has evolved in the 21st century. Think of all of the self-service experiences that exist today: self-checkout in grocery stores, walk-in/walk-out stores at airports and arenas, grab-and-go food and beverage options in hotel pantries and employee breakrooms, and even golf ball dispensing machines at golf courses. Cantaloupe provides end-to-end technology solutions for self-service commerce, including hardware to enable payments such as credit card readers or self-checkout kiosks and software services that help its customers optimize and scale by knowing what’s selling, when to restock a location, and how to manage assets best. From mom-and-pop business owners and start-up entrepreneurs looking to add payments to their storefronts to multi-regional enterprise businesses – Cantaloupe has solutions for businesses seeking to enable faster, more convenient self-service solutions for consumers.
Prior to digital payments, the process of securing snacks from a vending machine required a measure of luck to execute successfully.
First, having the correct change for the item improved the buyer’s chances of getting it. Coins were preferable, as machines would reject dollar bills that were slightly wrinkled or had corners that weren’t perfect 90-degree angles. Individuals trying to straighten their dollar bills on vending machine edges to meet or surpass a machine’s undisclosed standards was once a common sight.
After clearing payment hurdles, there was always a chance that the item purchased wouldn’t entirely dispense. A snack wrapper could get caught in the coils separating food items, causing your candy bar or bag of pretzels to dangle tauntingly behind protective glass.
Technological advancements have made it easier to purchase food and beverages from self-service machines and introduced entirely new experiences to meet new consumer demands and expectations. Cantaloupe has been at the forefront of innovations within the self-service retail industry, expanding from vending machines into broader retail with self-service technology and software solutions. With Smart Cafés, cooler innovations equipped with AI and Smart Lock technologies, and vending kiosks with jumbo screens to support people with disabilities, Cantaloupe has a solution for every need and every type of location.
Cantaloupe’s cashless payment options for self-service retail operations include its software services, which deliver real-time info on machine performance, sales, and inventory levels, as well as provide routing tools that business owners use to service the right locations at the right time – ensuring consumers have what they want when they want it.
“We have more than 28,000 customers worldwide, with a majority of those located directly in the United States today,” said Elyssa Steiner, Cantaloupe’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Though we serve enterprise customers operating tens of thousands of machines across numerous states, a majority of our customers are individuals with day jobs that run a vending or micro market business. Vending has presented a tremendous opportunity for those looking to make additional income while still working their day job. It’s fairly simple to get started, and with the right software, can be relatively easy to manage.”
Cash is No Longer King at Vending Machines
Steiner said that, regardless of the type of self-service machine an owner manages, machines should accept cashless payments.
“In fact, we released a study called the 2023 Micropayment Trends Report, analyzing more than 650,000 food and beverage machines and found that 67% of all sales at those machines were cashless,” Steiner explained. “The use of cashless payments has accelerated coming out of the pandemic. And that figure continues to grow. Vending machines that don’t accept electronic forms of payments are really missing out on both sales and attracting younger consumers. Cantaloupe provides a variety of solutions that make it cost-effective and easy for small business owners to accept cashless payments at their machines.”
Cashless payments are any payment made without using physical currency, including credit card, debit card, and mobile wallet payments. In addition to solving the problem of attempting to pay for items with less-than-crisp dollar bills, cashless payments free machine owners from the worry of securing a machine’s stored funds and reduce the need to handle physical cash — electronic payments deposit into their bank account on a weekly or daily basis.
“With more than 1.15 million locations in the United States today, I believe we are one of the leading cashless providers in the world for card readers for self-service retail,” Steiner said. “Our cashless solutions help businesses make their products easier for consumers to buy. We hear from customers who implement cashless acceptance at their machines that they are seeing a 30% or more increase in same-store sales just by offering cashless.”
Micro Markets Modernize the Self-Service Experience
Micro markets are an evolution of the vending machine experience in the self-service retail space. Steiner said micro markets typically offer a plethora of options to those seeking on-the-go sustenance. Micro markets often provide fresher, healthier food choices that allow consumers to look at the product before buying it.
“Vending machines can be perceived as a last-resort alternative,” Steiner said. “Micro markets really fill a void in the market and give consumers the options they’d commonly find in a small convenience store or food service area. The popularity of micro markets has exploded across the U.S., and they are gaining momentum in Europe.”
Many locations that traditionally housed vending machines now offer micro markets. Steiner said office break rooms, apartment complex common areas, and gym and fitness center facilities commonly accommodate micro markets.
Micro markets provide an expanded product offering compared to that available in vending machines. Whereas vending machine food items must fit within a compact area and a specific spiral size, micro markets have more space. They can also offer non-food items, including medicine and toiletries, with no real restrictions on product package size.
“With micro markets, you can offer a diverse product line without having to pay an employee to be an attendant,” Steiner said. “There’s a lot of challenges in the labor market, but self-service options solve those problems and minimize exposure to potential labor-related revenue losses.”
Cantaloupe’s Software Streamlines Business Operations
Cantaloupe’s Seed software helps vending machine and micro market owners optimize the management of all aspects of their business. Whether they have 5 or 5,000 locations, Seed supports them all. Cantaloupe’s proprietary software analyzes historical sales data to forecast the optimal times to service machines and restock inventory. Seed provides the business owner with exactly which locations need to be serviced, and when, to ensure they maximize sales and keep consumers happy and coming back for more.
“We call it dynamic scheduling,” Steiner said. “It’ll alert you to which locations need to be restocked and when. The old method of scheduling service for a location was done on what we call ‘static’, which can lead to unavailable items and missed sales opportunities. Cantaloupe’s software optimizes restocking efforts so customers are satisfied with the selection of goods and sales aren’t interrupted.”
Cantaloupe Stands Apart by Continuously Innovating
Steiner said business owners who combine Cantaloupe’s hardware and software services enjoy optimal and efficient operations. They can also reap the benefits of new technologies that seamlessly integrate into Cantaloupe.
“We understand that our customers may use a variety of solutions to run their business, and while we want to be the only solution, we also make it easy for them to connect third-party technologies into our platform,” Steiner said.
One of Cantaloupe’s latest innovations for the self-service retail market is its Smart Café solution. This new evolution of its smart cooler technology uses computer vision and artificial intelligence cameras to detect precisely which items a customer has selected. Steiner said customers must tap their payment card first to unlock the smart cooler and choose their items. Their payment card will not be charged until they close the cooler. Steiner believes this could be a disrupter to the retail market, where theft is a growing concern on products such as makeup, razor blades, and many other over-the-counter items that are locked up in convenience stores, drug stores, and big box retailers.
Steiner said self-service checkout is accelerating across numerous lines of business, including retail stores, hotels, and entertainment venues, including amusement parks and stadiums.
Cantaloupe’s end-to-end platform, combined with its flexibility, makes it unique within the self-service retail space. Steiner believes Cantaloupe is well-positioned to deliver self-service solutions to industries experiencing severe labor and theft challenges, specifically retail environments where grab-and-go options can present a far better consumer experience while providing the business owner greater peace of mind.
“Before they came to us, many business owners were piecemealing programs together and managing multiple solutions,” Steiner said. “That process becomes too difficult to manage efficiently. Our customers often come to us for one product and end up realizing it makes more sense to buy everything from Cantaloupe. With the self-service industry growing rapidly, I’m excited to see the new and faster ways we’ll serve our customers to provide them with self-service solutions that meet the consumer wherever they are.”