FMCG brands Hindustan Unilever, Godrej, CCD and Georgia are shifting to touchless tea and coffee machines. Coca-Cola has already adopted touchless technology for some of its cola vending machines at airports. These companies have partnered with Vendekin Technologies, a vending machine automation and aggregator platform, to make this shift to the new normal. The Pune-based firm’s digital platform enables a smartphone interface for touchless buying and contactless digital payment to complete the transactions.
“Touchless has become a must-have in offices and our technology enables use of the machine through the mobile phone instead of using the machine’s keypad,” says Aroon Khatter, founder and COO, Vendekin Technologies. According to Khatter, with the Covid-19 pandemic, there is growing demand for a touchless vending space. Around 95% of the vending machines operating in the country are installed in offices and these vending machines need to become touchless as social distancing and new hygiene standards become the norm.
Vendekin has developed a retrofitable plug-and-play device that makes an existing vending machine smart in a few minutes. “We retrofit their existing machines with our patented technology to make those machines smart,” says Khatter. The company has got two US patents and one Indian patent that enables it to convert the legacy machines into smart vending machines. Apart from retrofitting, Vendekin also makes it own factory-integrated machines that can vend a wide range of goods from snacks and groceries to hygiene products.
The firm readied the first prototype and filed patents in 2016. By 2018, it had scaled up with Coca-Cola bottlers, Nestle and vending machine operators coming on board. Currently, Vendekin has 2,500 vending machines on its platform with a quarter million users, says Khatter. Apart from India, it has a presence in the UAE, the UK and the US. Vendekin gets a one-time fee for the hardware, subscription fee for software services and a percentage of the transaction value. The company is backed by the family offices of CP Gurnani (CEO and MD, Tech Mahindra), Vineet Nayar (former CEO of HCL Technologies) and Charudatta Palwe (director, Radico NV Distilleries Maharashtra) and is now looking at its next round of funding.
Khatter says the FMCG company, the vending machine operating company or micro entrepreneur as well as the consumer stand to benefit from this disruptive technology. The touchless technology offers the consumer a safe way to make her purchases, ensures lower operating cost and higher margins for the vending machine operator and an opportunity for FMCG brands to streamline the supply chain as per consumption pattern and gather rich consumer insights. With AI and machine learning built on the platform, the FMCG companies are able to track the inventory remotely and replenish stocks in time, get consumer insights and also offer remote diagnostics and trouble shooting in case there is any problem with the vending machines. According to Khatter, the Vendekin intelligent solutions platform coupled with the cashless payment app, delivers value to the vending channel which now becomes more data-driven and efficient.
“Another benefit is real-time data analytics to help brand outreach and cost optimisation. The mobile-first approach for supply chain optimisation increases business visibility and advanced consumer insights as it introduces a new channel of sales to enhance FMCG growth by offering just-in-time convenience,” he adds.
This disruptive technology in the unattended retail sector space also offers a new business opportunity to micro entrepreneurs. Khatter estimates there are around 1.25 lakh vending machines installed across India; currently this is a minuscule part of any FMCG company’s business but vending commerce is now set to grow as another significant distribution channel. V-commerce or vending commerce will mature, and Vendekin hopes to serve five million users and 50,000 unmanned micro stores by 2024.
As the pandemic shows so signs of abating and most office complexes remain closed, machine vending operating companies are exploring new alternatives, from malls to housing societies to place these self-service unmanned touchless contactless retail solution. Retail consumers, too, are looking for touchless contactless retail options. As Khatter says: “The advent of the digital era has made the cash and card vending machines of yesteryears obsolete. The era of smart, digital vending machines is here.”