Cashless Coffee

Making affordability easier
Brian Martell
June 03, 2019
By
Coffee was, is and will always be one of the most affordable luxuries. Regardless of socio-economic standing, it is one of life’s pleasures that some would argue is not necessary to survive (although I’d take exception to that) but in an instant, fills us with warmth and focus simultaneously.

The price of a cup of coffee has remained remarkably consistent over the years; taking inflation into consideration, a cup of coffee from a vending machine would have cost about a dime back in the fifties which, adjusted to 2019 is about $1.05. The variety, combinations, styles and overall quality of what is available today from 60 years ago is far beyond comparison, however. These reasons, as well as the overall improvement in delivering a premium beverage through state-of-the-art machines, have allowed the OCS and Vending industries to offer value added beverages that are worth much more than $1.05/cup. Bean to cup offerings with as many as 3 different coffees, brewed either espresso or “drip” with the option of fresh milk, chocolate or other soluble flavours make for scores of possible recipes. Macchiatos, Lattes, Ristrettos, Café Mocha, Cappuccinos and other options greet coffee lovers in stunning visual displays on an interactive touch screen that is the façade of a complex brewing system – right in their own offices.

Technology has not only revolutionized the way we get our coffee; it has formed the link connecting the new generations of coffee lovers to a quasi-ancient beverage. Those who remember the days of carrying quarters to be able to make phone calls have learned to accept new technology. Those who don’t even know what pay phones look like take our rapidly expanding electro-tech as an acquired right. They also have a peculiar trait that sets them apart from older generations – their ambivalence to cash. Within the Canadian context (and this is where we are ahead of the US), more and more of us are accepting the ease of using either debit or credit cards to make “touch” payments.  Ease of use, less ballast in your pocket and, at least for the credit cards, deferred payment all make this form of “point of sale” system attractive to
consumers.

It is not surprising then, to see high-end coffee brewing equipment with consumer HMI (human machine interface) offer these payment options when the coffee is not free.  In an interesting twist on using cashless payment options, Costa Coffee shops in the UK, in conjunction with Barclay’s Bank, have combined two elements of the younger generation’s spirit, reusable thermal coffee cups with payment chips built right into them.  Now British consumers can use their reusable coffee cups – named “the Clever Cup” to not only fill the mug without using paper cups, and make the payment all at once.  This unique payment option is more ecologically driven than for ease of payment but does underline the creative ways payment systems can be integrated into complementary programmes.

Cashless coffee has long been the default setting for OCS where the aim has been to keep folks in the office and productive.  The seminal principle of OCS is free coffee in exchange for happier, more productive employees.   And while this remains the default business model for both office and provider, the growing prevalence of micro-markets has added a layer of choice to businesses that want something a little more than OCS or vending.  Those familiar with micro-markets know that they are a veritable convenience store built into a corner of the office.  Vast selections of consumer products are available, and if the company has decided not to offer a traditional OCS, coffee will be part of the market.  Where bean to cup or 72” machines are available, the cashless system can be integrated into the machine itself.  For smaller establishments, where the coffee is either in pod or some other single-serve platform, the use of bar codes to scan the purchase through the micro-market system is the preferred method.   With single serve options still occupying a large part of the coffee-in-offices segment, the ability to make the transaction simpler, where micro markets are concerned, is critical to consumer acceptance.  Some operators have adopted the use of bar coded pods with biodegradable packaging; appealing not only to variety but also to ecological sustainability all the while making the payment of the product quite simple.

Ultimately, coffee remains that quintessential affordable luxury, regardless of where we get it.  The difference between now and a few decades ago, is the ever expanding creative ways in which we have access to our favourite beverage.

Comments, questions, feedback, start a dialogue?  Please e-mail Brian at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it o
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