Coffee vending machines are becoming intelligent via IoT: This not only enables an innovative business model, but also provides the basis for smart vending features and transparent condition monitoring & alarming.
The problem: Coffee houses are not worthwhile in every location
High-quality coffee, prepared with love and presented to visitors in a friendly manner, is part of the urban lifestyle these days. But unfortunately, a typical coffee bar with a barista cannot be operated at every location. Sometimes the rent is too expensive, sometimes the location is not busy enough. Costa Coffee, an international coffee house operator, encountered this problem during its expansion strategy. The Coca-Cola subsidiary, based in Dunstable in the United Kingdom, owns more than 2,100 coffee shops in the United Kingdom and about 1,200 in other countries, including nearly 500 in China.
But there are another 11,000 places where Costa Coffee is offered, via vending machine. Behind the old-fashioned-looking term is a fully automatic miniature coffee bar that no longer has much to do with the traditional hot-drink machines with plastic cups and instant coffee. It offers the same high-quality coffee as in coffee houses. The supplier of the equipment is the British company – more precisely, its subsidiary Costa Express – but operators are, for example, airports, gas stations or car dealerships and any company that wants to offer customers something special.
The solution: Intelligent, networked coffee vending machines
Costa Express coffee vending machines are smart, connected products that capture and transmit sales and condition data by connecting to the Internet of Things (IoT), making processes such as service and maintenance much easier. For this purpose, Costa Express has developed a customized IoT solution with the IoT experts at Device Insight that combines very different functions.
When developing the solution, it was clear from the start that the vending machine would have a modern user interface with a touchscreen. In principle, a tablet-like computer is integrated into the device. This made it easier for Device Insight to develop its IoT software. For operation, the machine already determines all the necessary data, which only needs to be read out and sent to the IoT via mobile communications.
One of the most important features for Costa Coffee’s business model is the automatic alerting of problems. This can be technical faults in the vending machine, but also stock of coffee or milk that has not been replenished. There is even an escalation system with different alarm levels to inform the right contact person for a problem as quickly as possible.
In addition, the company uses the IoT platform not only for condition monitoring, but also to create another interface to the customer via display marketing. In this way, customer and discount promotions as well as new coffee creations can be communicated and marketed in an integrated manner. Prices, start and end dates for promotions, and display content can be customized directly through the platform.
As the latest feature, the possibility of contactless ordering has also been integrated into the solution. Here, the customer can enter his order via app instead of via the display of the coffee machine. A link to the vending machine is established via QR code; touching the display itself is no longer necessary. This function is aimed at preventing transmission of the coronavirus via the touchscreen in times of the pandemic.
The result: A comprehensive IoT solution for Smart Vending
Thanks to the IoT solution, Costa Express can remotely operate its mobile coffee bars worldwide and still have full visibility into the status and operation of the vending machines. Service and maintenance costs are thus reduced to a minimum and downtimes of the coffee machines are kept to a minimum. At the same time, precise monitoring ensures consistently high coffee quality – and thus also increases customer satisfaction.
Costa Express also has numerous IoT-based marketing opportunities and digital customer services available to generate new revenue. Last but not least, the solution creates another channel to the customer. Costa receives direct feedback on customers’ buying behavior and preferences and can use this knowledge for marketing and further product development.