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Self-Service Innovation Summit 2021

What will tomorrow’s self-service technology look like?

A panel of self-service industry veterans share insights on what new technologies are in store during the 2021 Self-Service Innovation Summit.

What will tomorrow’s self-service technology look like?Moderator Joe Hessling of 365 Retail Markets, left, hears from panelists Mike Coffey of Canteen, Neil Thompson of HMS Host, Josh Rosenberg of Three Boys Strong Consulting Group and Ryan McWhirter, 365 Retail Markets.

| by Elliot Maras — Editor, Kiosk Marketplace & Vending Times

As the industrialized world has moved to a more service based economy, technological change has become a constant for nearly every industry.

And while technology has unleashed a wealth of service capabilities, service providers face the unending task of staying abreast of new capabilities. Those in the self-service industry can never escape the question: What technologies will shape tomorrow's customer expectations?

Joe Hessling, flanked by Mike Coffey, asks panelists about future challenges.

A panel of industry veterans tackled this challenge head on during a panel, "New Self-Service Technologies for a Changing World" at the Self-Service Innovation Summit last month in Hollywood, Florida.

During the session, insights from two national service providers (Mike Coffey, chief strategy and innovation officer, Canteen and Neil Thompson, vice president of digital at HMS Host), one technology provider (Ryan McWhirter, vice president of product management, 365 Retail Markets) and a consultant who has served on both sides of the proverbial fence (Josh Rosenberg, CEO, Three Boys Strong Consulting Group) demonstrated future possibilities are manifold, but certainties are few.

Service channels blending

"As it (service channels) continue to blend, it brings plenty of opportunity for those that are operators, it brings plenty of opportunity for those that are providers, and events like this allow us to really understand those things and share information," session moderator Joe Hessling, founder and CEO, 365 Retail Markets, said at the outset of the panel.

Before delving into future expectations, Hessling asked the panelists to review the changes that have occurred in self-service technology over the last decade.

Thompson, whose company operates about 1,200 airport restaurants, noted that HMS Host has naturally taken its technology cues from restaurants — which have introduced self checkout kiosks, "smart fridges" and self-order QR codes on the tables — as well as airports, which have enabled flyers to do everything to prepare for their flight using their own electronic devices.

"This idea of enabling the traveler to utilize their own device, to engage with us earlier in the travel journey, maybe as far as all the way back when you're booking your flight…there are these different places where we (HMS Host) can start to intersect," Thompson said.

Micro markets revolutionize vending

Where HMS Host is in airports, Canteen is the nation's largest operator of convenience services in business, industry and college locations. For Canteen, the last decade saw the emergence of the "micro market," a self-serve kiosk technology that has allowed traditional vending operators to offer more product variety to customers more economically.

Transitioning from vending machines to micro markets was easy, Coffey said, since customers wanted the micro market experience. Customers were glad to see vending machines go away and be able to touch and feel products, he said.

"Back then (10 years ago) Canteen was a pure vending company," Coffey said. "This transformation for our business has been about unattended retail and meeting the customers where they expect to see retail services and with technology that they want to use."

Customer education needed

Josh Rosenberg cites the important role digital wallets have played in supply chains.

One challenge was educating customers about micro markets. In the beginning, Coffey said some customers didn't now how to pay at a micro market kiosk.

"Your customers have to be ready for the journey as well," he said.

Fortunately, that education was well under way by the time COVID hit. COVID has delivered a major boost for contactless payments, Coffey said, which jumped from less than 1% to over 20% for Canteen.

Rosenberg, who formerly served as an executive for a regional vending and foodservice firm, concurred.

"We've been on this journey for a decade and the pandemic just forced us to speed it up," he said.

In 2010, Rosenberg said vending was actually in decline since cashless was slow to gain consumer acceptance and product was limited to the coils in the vending machine while supply chain technology was limited in ways that made it difficult to scale the operation and diversify product offerings.

Digital wallets have been a key supply chain technology, Rosenberg said.

"We have an ability to engage and disrupt consumer behavior through their digital wallet which allows them to understand that we can be that point of purchase for them," he said. "We're now seeing an acceleration of omnichannel or e-com(merce)."

More options drive more consumer needs

Because consumers now have more options for how and where they get their daily food and beverages, the convenience services industry has been forced to offer more options.

The new capabilities have created a need for a greater variety of service options, McWhirter of 365 Retail Markets said.

"It's not just one thing … It's the app that you can scan and pay (with), it's the kiosk that you can approach, it's the less expensive kiosk with less capabilities that you can use at smaller population locations," McWhirter said. "We've created a matrix of options the market has validated."

The data revolution

From an operational standpoint, technology has unleashed a wealth of data for service providers.

Hessling asked the operator panelists how they use data and what opportunities the expansion of data can offer.

"From a data perspective, we're trying to grab more of the 250 people (at a customer location)," Coffey said. "Data is really driving you to engage more consumers in the smallest population. Data is everywhere; it's so critical to what we do in our business; it's a huge driver operationally and on the consumer side."

Only 15% of the people at a location equipped with vending machines buy from the machines, he said, compared to 35% to 40% for locations with micro markets.

Micro markets, Coffey said, have provided a lot of real-time information the company previously had not had access to. The data has enabled the company to quantify the customer demand for more products. The data will reveal which products are not selling and which they should be offering more of.

The challenge for HMS Host, Thompson said, is contextualizing operational data that is unique to the airport environment.

For example, weather has a huge impact on customer dwell time, which in turn has a huge impact on HMS Host. Rain, for example can deliver a 15% increase in dwell time in an airport.

"That has incredible implications on ways we can lead and manage our business to provide a much better guest experience," Thompson said.

Data spawns new competition

Hessling pointed out that data availability also fosters more competition. He asked Rosenberg which competitors he now sees in the market because of technological advancement.

Rosenberg cited Amazon and 7-Eleven as companies that are using data to support residential delivery.

But he reminded his listeners to keep in mind that technology allows all retail players to participate in e-commerce.

To this end, McWhirter said 365 Retail Markets has introduced food lockers for delivery pickup.

The biggest challenge for all business is knowing where to place inventory, assets, human resources "and how to use technology to tell us where to be and what time to be there," Rosenberg said. The business also has to use data to make sure the supply chain enables the product to be available to the consumer, he said.

While all service providers can access more data, Hessling pointed out that Canteen and HMS Host can distinguish themselves with fresh and made-to-order food. Coffey and Thompson agreed.

Thompson said HMS Host has partnered with Open Table to provide a virtual waiting list which reduces the need to wait in line for a table.

"It's deadly accurate to when your table will be ready," he said, adding that HMS Host will expand this to taking reservations.

"Digitizing the experience is really critical for us," he said.

What comes next?

The panelists had different answers when asked what technologies they are most excited about.

Coffey of Canteen answered computer vision, which offers the ability to detect consumer behavior. Frictionless solutions in use today are heavily driven by sensor fusion and computer vision, he said,

"I really see that a catapulting thing for retail," he said. At the present time, he said the cost is very high in relation to the revenue.

Thompson of HMS Host said competency of observation is most important factor for restaurants, which includes being able to see how teams come together.

"There are ways of using AI and other tools to get to understand that," he said.

Rosenberg cited metaverse and augmented reality. Where today technology dictates what the consumer sees, tomorrow they are building the experience themselves. "Metaverse" in his view refers to augmented reality, which in 10 years will allow a retailer to offer a "hybrid reality" that allows the consumer to have the experience they want in any destination in any event.

"Through augmented reality, they're building their shopping mall, their airport, their workplace experience," Rosenberg said.

McWhirter said he is most excited about artificial intelligence which he prefers to call "inferred intelligence."

"If you can anticipate what the consumer wants before they want it, before a machine is going to break, a tech is already there and can fix it…is really, really invaluable," he said.

Photos by Willie Lawless.

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of Kiosk Marketplace and Vending Times. He brings three decades covering unattended retail and commercial foodservice.

Self-Service Innovation Summit 2021


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