iot

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ASUS IoT and smart vending machines: Modernizing automated food service

2021/07

The problem

Managing complex inventory and converting consumer interest

Food service is understandably one of the most popular scenarios for vending machines. Humans get hungry and businesses are keen to satisfy that demand, when and wherever they can. However, the majority of traditional vending machines offer only shelf-stable or cold foodstuffs. Whereas hot drinks machines are common, those serving hot food are comparatively rare.

There are several good reasons for this and our client – an experienced supplier of vending machines – identified three key problems it wished to address in this area.

First, there are challenges in heating food, or keeping heated food hot. For example, there may be a need to operate an automated microwave oven on command; or, there may be a need for sufficient insulation and temperature-modulating sensors and elements to keep hot food stored at safe temperatures.

Second, the shelf life of hot food is generally short. As a result, replenishment is more complex. The necessary just-in-time inventory model means that overstocking will lead to wastage, while understocking risks lost sales.

Third, product expiration must be tightly managed and purchases controlled. In other words, the shorter shelf life of hot food means it is vital that expired products are blocked from sale.

In addition to these particular challenges, the whole vending-machine industry must deal with recurrent pain points. Consumer attention spans and patience are short, so in order to drive up sales and profits it is important to capture and maintain interest before converting such desire into a purchase.

The solution

Smarter vending for more demanding consumers

Working in close partnership with our client, ASUS IoT engineers built an intelligent vending machine based on ASUS IoT PE200U, an intelligent, TCO-optimized edge computer for IoT applications. Our dual aims were to reshape the vending-machine experience for consumers and to help our client realize greater profits through improved inventory control and targeted point-of-sale advertising.

Equipped with an Intel® Core™ i5 CPU, flexible expansion options and a fanless thermal solution, PE200U is designed to work stably and in silence under wide-ranging temperatures – from as low as -20° C to as high as 60° C – with full CPU utilization. This enables PE200U-powered vending machines to provide a wide variety of food choices, including prepackaged options that need to be heated automatically or must be otherwise maintained within specific temperature parameters. The ASUS IoT hardware also allows our client to connect an external touchscreen display to implement enhanced customer experiences, including the display of personalized promotions.

As well, thanks to the wireless capabilities that are built in to ASUS IoT PE200U, all interaction and transaction data can be quickly and easily collated and sent to a local or cloud server for remote monitoring and control. The always-on connectivity also allows diverse payment methods, including mobile payments, plus real-time inventory management.

The outcome

Modernized customer experiences drive up both interest and sales

With the help of ASUS IoT PE200U, our client’s traditional vending operations are being transformed. Data related to every interaction and purchase is collected and available for immediate analysis, providing new and deeper insights into customer behaviors and desire.

Based on these analytics, our client has been able to optimize the product matrix for specific locations and conduct personalized marketing strategies. The integration of an intuitive touchscreen interface means that the customer experience has greatly improved, increasing interaction and satisfaction. Moreover, the ability to accept diverse payment methods is helping to drive up conversions – and thus profitability.

In addition to these front-end benefits, significant upsides have also been realized at the back end. The availability of real-time inventory information and product-expiration data has tightened supply-chain management, minimizing both under- and overstocking situations and thereby reducing replenishment costs. Maintenance has also been rationalized, with the live status of vending machines empowering both necessary and predictive upkeep measures to be implemented without delay.

The upshot is that, with the power and smarts afforded by ASUS IoT PE200U, our client has been able to implement a next-generation vending machine that helps it better connect with customers – and to offer those customers browsing and buying experiences that are several levels above traditional vending-machine experiences. Customers are happier, insights are clearer and maintenance is easier – leading to better business decisions

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