A survey by USA Technologies (USAT) gauges the growing impact of the pandemic on self-serve kiosks, vending machines, and cashier-less stores.

The company recently surveyed 474 businesses, including 336 vending operators, during the peak of the pandemic in early May when most states were in closed phases.

USA Technologies provides wireless, cashless payment, and machine-to-machine (M2M) telemetry solutions for small-ticket, self-serve retailing industries such as vending.

Just a few years ago, the idea of being able to pay in-store without ever speaking to a retail assistant seemed far-fetched. These days, this is the reality in large chain stores, and is becoming increasingly common across the retail landscape.

Unattended retail no longer just refers to being able to buy some snacks at the vending machine in a local leisure centre.

Now, the vending landscape is considerably more technologically advanced, with the expansion into self-service checkout and interactive machines, and is making way for the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the internet of things.

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Over the next 5 years, unattended retail is anticipated to be a £10b industry.

Shifts in payment method, products and services

The survey data noted shifts in payment method and changes to products and services offered as a result of changing consumer demands.

It found 27% of the operators pivoted to offering new products and services, including PPE products, and 19% were offering boxed lunches and take-out options, for example.

The data appears in a new infographic from USAT, which depicted the data analysed from 120,000 cashless terminals in order to compare the survey results against unattended retail terminal performance.

From the survey conducted in early May, 66% of respondents reported seeing more than 50% of their revenue impacted during the peak of Covid-19, with 48% of total respondents identifying that they were located in a Covid-19 hotspot (e.g. a city or location like New York City or Chicago).

The largest decline in average sales per machine

During the month of April USAT observed the largest decline in average sales per machine. By May, the market showed signs of recovery, being driven by cashless payments, specifically contactless payments.

The cashless terminals analysed saw a 51% growth in sales per machine overall, with 61.7% of total sales in July 2020 made with cashless payments, vs 53.1% in January.

The accelerated adoption of cashless has spurred many in the industry not currently offering a cashless alternative to implement this payment method into their business model.

Cashless payments are an attractive alternative, as a matter of health and safety, security, as well as a noted 43% increase in average transaction size.

Consumers looking for more secure ways to pay for goods and services

Elyssa Steiner, vice president of Marketing, USA Technologies, said:

“The trends towards cashless, specifically contactless, are being driven by consumers looking for more secure and better protected ways to pay for goods and services.

“The adoption of contactless payments has been growing steadily over the past few years. However, the onset of Covid-19 certainly has accelerated the demand and use.

“We believe that this movement towards digital payments of any form, whether credit card, mobile wallet, or such will continue to propagate, as businesses look to provide a safer way to pay for products in person.”