The vending machine reinvented for the smart era

It was one of those iconic machines of the analog world found in railway and bus stations, roadsides and passageways. Drop a coin and it dishes out candies and gumballs, cigarettes, soda in cans, chocolate bars, chips and snacks, and even newspapers or pretty much what one needs on the go.

In the digital world, it is not a surprise that the vending machine is reinvented to become a part of the networked world, taking advantage of developments in technology and the new IT infrastructure.

At the recently concluded Sapphire Now 2014 conference in Orlando, Florida, SAP demonstrated the Smart Vending solution based on the SAP Hana real-time data platform. In a demo on the show floor of the conference, Christian H. Busch, Director of Internet of Things, SAP Labs, LLC, explained how the company transformed the vending machine and how it may connect to the digital economy.

1. From coins to mobile phones

SAP's reinvented vending machine uses smartphones instead of coins and dispenses not just soda in cans and chips, but even smartphones.

With the NFC mobile wallet platform, consumers can tap their NFC phones against the NFC-enabled vending machine and pay for their purchases. This action can be linked to their social profiles allowing operators to gain insight into consumer preferences and manage their machine more efficiently.

Because users are using a personal gadget, the machine automatically "knows" the user and even shows a welcome message. The personalized screen features not just the products up for grabs, but also special offers, one's rewards profile (coupons redeemed, gift coupons available), one's favorite items based on past purchases history, the last purchase and "friends" of the user.

The opportunity for engaging customers in a highly personalized way through their mobile phones is the gameplay of this brand new vending machine. As it is now, SAP said consumers can identify themselves with their smartphones, build profiles, connect to their friends, play social games, and receive promotions and offers tailored. Using the mobile gadget with the vending machine could offer an immersive retail experience for the customer on the go.

2. Real-time data

For SAP, consumer engagement is just the beginning. With capabilities to access real-time data in the cloud, SAP’s Smart Vending solution is envisioned to enable important pillars of the retail vending process - interactive consumer experience, mobile commerce, and a real world aware supply chain that support the vending machine lifecycle.

Busch said it is meant to be a part of Machine-2-Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things scheme because any machine can be used to connect things. 

Because the machines collect data from consumers, vending operators and retailers will be able to monitor consumer behavior such as preferred products, timing of purchase, stock outs, product movement, machine downtimes and other critical information, which they can use to better plan and manage inventory, optimize delivery and create efficiencies in the supply chain to avoid stock outs or overstocking.

3. Management dashboard for retailers

Based on the SAP HANA real-time data platform, SAP’s Smart Vending solution provides vending operators and retailers with a management dashboard and visualizations for making use of data and information gathered by individual machines, providing visibility across the entire network and at each individual machine.

This is expected to enable operators to customize product offerings in each locality or each machine, modify the user interface of machines to attract more customers and gain insight into consumer preferences, allowing them to address the needs of specific customers, create unique offers and promotions in specific geographies, or modify the product mix.

"With Smart Vending, your brand is not only able to increase efficiency, maximize revenue, and deliver compelling opportunities for consumer engagement but also able to power brand new business channels, such as display advertising," the company said in an earlier news release.

4. Vending machines for healthcare

SAP is also taking the smart vending machine into a whole new storefront - hospitals and healthcare institutions. The goal is to offer medicines and other healthcare products at the point of care. These 'mini pharmacies' promise to reduces operating costs in hospitals and improve the patient experience. 

Through the personalization feature provided by SAP, the prescription vending machine would know a user's medical history, insurance, prescription, and purchase information.

Moreover, SAP Smart Vending promises to improve hospital efficiencies. For one, a temperature sensor would ensure the prescriptions were stored properly, and a service ticket would be automatically created if the machine breaks. The real-time data analytics from SAP HANA would predict what prescriptions were needed in each location, and when. If more antibiotics needed in winter months, or more pain medications needed at a hospital near a ski resort, the system will also know and use the data to maximize the supply chain.  

Busch said during the demo that the Smart Vending machine can be actually used in many industries, not just for consumer product companies or retailers.

It may take some time for these new fleet of machines to become commonplace in Asia, but this is what the future looks like for the age-old retail machine reinvented for the digital generation.