Machines & Accessories
COVID-19 and Touchless Vending
PayRange’s innovations keeps everyone healthy
By Naomi Szeben
Since the pandemic, many consumers have understandably responded with increasing reluctance to touching any public surfaces. For many, vending machine keypads are a definite area of concern; New York Governor Cuomo expressed apprehension regarding the proper protocols for offices so to follow disinfecting practices.
Canadian Vending and Office Coffee Service Magazine spoke with Paresh Patel, founder and CEO of PayRange, to ask him what steps vendors can take to reassure customers while keeping everyone healthy.
When discussing office snack or break rooms, Patel acknowledges that they are “a high traffic area and likely one that you touch right before you’re about to eat something,” he explains. “By its very nature, you couldn’t complete a transaction unless you were actually touching a keypad. That being said, you can certainly try to see if staff at that location will help you keep the machines sanitized, because it’s not practical for an operator to make daily visits to every location, just to clean the machine.”
Since hiring dedicated cleaners for these machines or asking staff to wipe down units after every single transaction isn’t very practical, the next most logical solution is touchless vending.
PayRange introduced an industry-wide effort to introduce a new touch-free experience to keep staff and consumers safe. This upgrade promises to revive vending locations that were hardest hit by the ongoing pandemic. “I think overall, that the entire industry has been affected in a very material way”, continued Patel. With the shutdown, a lot of work sites were closed, even in transit locations like airports, hotels and rental car centers, all mostly closed or with very low utilization. Then, colleges and universities soon followed.”
“Operators started reaching out and asked if door solutions were a possibility. So, PayRange developed a protocol that allows for a touch-free selection in our units and in conjunction with sending a cashless payment to the device.
“We aren’t alone in the process of dispensing product; the only way something like that could work is if the machine manufacturers all adopted the protocol.” PayRange reached out and found that vendors were interested, but what makes this story fascinating was the speed with which this was dispatched. “Changes in the vending industry can take time,” explains Patel. “Especially when you’re talking about firmware changes. It could take years to change firmware sometimes, but in this particular instance, they jumped onboard and our quickest manufacturer had the thing implemented in a single day.”
“You have things like Apple Pay and Google Pay, but they can only do payment via tactile interaction on the vending machine. They don’t actually interface directly with the device. They are only a payment source to the built-in card reader, and so our unique ability was that we had millions of users, we already had hardware in place, one which could be upgraded over the air and has a user interface that promotes engagement.”
Patel also states that PayRange’s touchless solution is “payment method agnostic,” meaning that it takes all forms of card payments, ranging from credit cards to virtual wallets to debit cards. “We can even handle alternative options like coupon codes and other inventive payment methods. We call it an aggregator of payment sources, which allows use of any number of different payment sources in our app. We in turn allow the machine’s owner to just get a simplified turnkey solution.” Patel adds that “90 per cent of Canadian debit cards work,” in the new touchless system.
The PayRange CEO was quick to point out that there are three different paths through this rollout. The first one is, as new machines are being manufactured, that this new protocol will be built-in, so those new devices will be touch-free enabled straight out of the factory. The second path is that machine manufacturers now offer a firmware upgrade to their machines, and the operator can download the information onto a thumb drive, go to the machine and update it in no time. Patel adds that “this will take some time in the sense that the operator has to go to the location, but they can target the most sensitive locations that people are interested in, and can update those first.” The third path is presented for machines where a firmware upgrade is not available, such as very old vending units. “We are currently working with vendors exchange to build a retrofit kit that will allow any machine made in the last 25 years to be upgraded to touchless.”
And how old is “too old?”
Patel says that as long as it is MDB compatible, anything 1995 and newer can be worked with.
“The beautiful thing about this upgrade is, it’s going to be free. The manufacturers are offering their firmware for free, and PayRange is offering its firmware upgrade and the solution for touch-free use at no cost to operators.” He adds that the only cost to operators will be in their time spent to go update their devices. “Most machines can be upgraded in five minutes or less. It’s a field upgrade, so they basically would bring the thumb drive to the location, plug it in and update the firmware on the blue key device.” All that’d be left by then would to notify new clients that the upgraded Point of Sale now accepts touchless transactions by slapping a sticker on the upgraded unit.
“At the end of the day you’re providing a service and a product that is very well suited for a pandemic era,” says Patel. ““Automated retail is a pretty safe way to buy, because you’re limiting your interaction. This means you’ve got to figure out how to alleviate people’s concerns in purchasing from vending machines. Payment and touching are the two biggest areas at play in the equation, but if you can solve them, you have a very solid business ahead of you.”