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Contactless and Conversational Vending Experience: 2020 and Beyond

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Explore how AI and voice technology integrations are creating smarter, contactless and conversational vending machines that improve sales, product accessibility, and customer engagement.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The basic vending experience has evolved by leaps and bounds over the years. Today’s vending machines are a far cry from their legacy, coin-operated, beverage dispensing counterparts. They are infused with connected devices & sensors, analytics, HD displays and touchscreens. They are centrally managed to improve operational efficiencies, ensure product availability, ​and maximize revenue.​

But the market landscape and customer mindset are entering a new normal where even these advancements might not suffice. Customers want a vending machine experiences that is smart, interactive, convenient, safe, and offers an elevated experience packed into one solution. As businesses remodel their operations to adjust to such evolving expectations, they again incline towards technology for answers. 

More than the snack dispenser we grew up with

Having been in the commercial market since the 19th century, vending machines have already gone through a myriad of upgrades. From coins to joysticks to keypads and now touchscreens - their operation has evolved over the years with more technological interventions. As a result, these self-service machines are currently deployed for multiple use cases, product segments, and in varied ecosystems. They cut labor costs, provide round-the-clock service, and nudge impulse purchases more than any other point-of-sales (POS) channel.

At present, technological innovations like voice assistants, face recognition, IoT, and advanced analytics integration are making vending machines much more efficient, convenient, and engaging to use. Cloud connectivity, IoT sensors, and analytics can enable vendors to track inventory levels and optimize delivery routes in real-time. They can keep track of machine uptime/downtime, run diagnostic checks, prevent theft/malfunctions, and even fix issues and re-configure machine software. It is also possible to analyze buying patterns against location, peak hours, and even the weather. This makes it possible to make decisions on the right product mix at the right location for the right target audience.

But, with the ongoing digitization boom and the heightened importance of safety, ‘physical contact’ with foreign surfaces is a forgone concept. People prefer digital over manual, online over offline, and chatting over emailing/calling. They are accustomed to card-less transactions, digital wallets, RFID ticketing, virtual/augmented reality experiences, gesture-based interactions, and sensor-based gating systems. And similar levels of personalization, convenience, and contactless service is expected from kiosks and vending machines. As a result, along with intelligence and automation, companies are looking for technological solutions to provide vending experiences where units can interact with customers without any physical contact.

Enter: Safe and convenient vending

A touchless vending machine that is powered with conversational intelligence and advanced payment options is the need of the hour. Such vending machines are the key to the future of automated retailing that will grow with time in terms of accessibility, product types, and capabilities. By combining conversational AI with digital kiosk technology, customers can have an alternative to use self-service solutions without touching the screen.

The integration of cognitive intelligence with conversational interfaces can be a truly unique vending experience. Machines can deliver all of the services as before but in a contactless, personalized, and human-like manner. This will ensure the automation of routine vending activities (order, item selection, payment, etc.) with augmented convenience for the buyer.

With contactless and conversational vending machines, there is a possibility to provide customers with fast, interactive, and safe shopping experiences


Intelligent, Touchless interactions

Banking on this notion, HARMAN took a step towards innovating touchless vending machines with conversational AI, advanced payment tech., computer vision, IoT, and other state-of-the-art technologies. HARMAN’s Connected Services envisioned it as the perfect way to bridge the hygiene and personalization gaps in the current vending operations.

And thus, HARMAN’s eNOVA was integrated. An AI-powered voice-enabled platform, eNOVA, delivers an engaging, human-like conversational experience through vending machines with a digital personality that can completely reflect the brand. It is packed with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), and high-quality human speech synthesis. When deployed, its conversational voice can learn menu items and situational variations, automatically upsell offers in accordance with the user’s persona, preferences and engage in a “fully touchless interaction."

Focusing on connectedness, convenience, and contextual conversations, we have designed it to simulate unique human dialogues and natural language interactions. For instance, a customer simply says what they would like to order or find, and instead of pressing any buttons, the application confirms the request via a conversational voice assistant and presents the order after a digital payment is made. The vending machine can also be enhanced with proximity sensors to indicate closeness limits and demography detection to determine customer persona.

eNOVA comprises the following:

  • Leverages Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to continuously capture better insights, adapt and improve
  • Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)
  • Natural Language Understanding (NLU)
  • Multi-lingual support (available in 7 international languages)
  • Computer vision for demography detection and analysis of customer profiles
  • Data Privacy and ownership
  • Integrated payment solution (contactless)
  • 3rd party APIs from defined skills
  • Custom skills can be easily added with user-defined intents responses & conversation
  • Deployable on-premises as well as on cloud

Such an amalgamation of technologies leads to a unique blend of benefits for both customers and enterprises.

Customers can get recommendations based on their shopping history, current trends, and preferences. The experience is enriched with voice-enabled assistance in product search, selection, ordering, and even payment. The assistant can also be used for billing and refunds.

eNOVA offers unprecedented features for enterprises like - actionable insights on customer data linked to trends, preferences, sales, personalized brand messaging, cost-effective delivery with minimal maintenance or intervention requirement, on-the-go feedback, and on-premise/cloud deployment hardware for customization. It also enables seamless third-party integrations with existing UI and POS systems.

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See how eNOVA is revolutionizing the legacy vending mod​el with conversatio​nal AI
​Explore next gen connected experiences

Today, contactless vending solutions can facilitate increased sales and a higher level of convenience globally. With HARMAN eNOVA successfully driving compelling customer experiences and transforming the traditional vending models, we are sure there is a lot more that can be done. After all, necessity is the mother of inventions! And we are the believers of continuous innovation.

To explore how HARMAN Connected Services is making a difference in different industries and business processes, get in touch with us.