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Vending Machines Get Smart to Accommodate the Cashless

Makers and operators roll out interactive, credit-friendly units
By 2018 there will be an estimated 2 million smart vending machines in the U.S.
By 2018 there will be an estimated 2 million smart vending machines in the U.S.Courtesy Pepsi

More than 40 percent of U.S. adults say they can go a week without paying for something with cash, according to a survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports last year, but most of the roughly 5 million vending machines in the U.S. still accept only coins or bills, even as prices rise. Vending industry sales fell 18.3 percent between 2007 and 2011, to 1990s levels, before recovering slightly last year, to $19.3 billion.

To boost sales, vending companies are installing new machines that accept credit cards and mobile payments and feature digital screens, video cameras, and smartphone charging stations. Machines that accept plastic can lift sales 25 percent to 30 percent, estimates Michael Kasavana, a professor at Michigan State University who studies self-service technology. Kasavana says revenue per transaction rises 15 percent to 20 percent when the machines can prompt consumers to buy a Snickers bar along with their bag of Doritos. “The vending industry has had to respond to the change in consumer preferences in order to remain relevant and profitable,” says Brad Ellis, president of Crane Merchandising Systems, one of the largest makers of vending machines.