Cashless technology to support post-pandemic vending.

AVA chief executive David Llewellyn

New research from the Automatic Vending Association (AVA) has revealed an 11% YoY increase in cashless vending technology (36% to 47%) despite the drop in overall operator revenue and customer consumption.

The findings from the AVA’s annual Census for 2020, which consists of submissions from the operators of 310,000 machines around the UK showcased more than double (58%) the purchase value of cashless payments throughout the pandemic period, in comparison to those made in cash.

This increase in cashless vending technology has been accelerated by significant investment in this area, with the industry trade body reporting almost half of its members’ machines are now fitted with cashless readers, the transactions of which were 66% cashless.

The AVA 2020 Census also highlighted an increase in micromarket vending since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with an additional 320 machines now installed in the UK, up from 200 last year.

Micro market vending – a custom-designed  vending market  or mart with an unmanned self-checkout kiosk – has boasted a continued growth not just this year, but since 2017 showing a 350% increase in total. The expected continuation of working from home and hybrid working models for many offices means more opportunities for micro-markets in many sites that previously had on-site caterers preparing food in situ.

Despite these positive shifts towards cashless and micro market vending, the industry saw an average decrease in operator revenue of 41% in 2020 vs. 2019 and a further 40% decrease in consumption, directly linked to a drop in footfall due to the pandemic.

As a result of this decrease, the AVA predicts a machine base restructuring during the year 2020/2021 after the census also found that vending operators had reduced employee headcounts by an average of 28%, as well as many leaning on government schemes such as furlough and Additional Restriction Grants (ARGs).

David Llewellyn, chief executive of the AVA stressed: “It’s been a tough year for most businesses, let alone those in vending, which not only saw an overall 37% reduction in revenue in 2020, down to £1.4billion but on a micro-level has seen vending businesses across the country impacted and highly-valued employees depart.

“It is however important to remain optimistic for what this great industry has to come. An industry that has been feeding hospital-based key workers throughout the pandemic and an industry that has maintained the utmost cleanliness and hygiene throughout this turbulent period. With cashless and contactless technology paving the way for improved customer experience, new forms of vending in micro markets and new products becoming available every day, we are confident vending will return with added strength post-pandemic.

“What the industry and our members need imminently though, is support from our government and specifically, our Local Authorities. As we have seen in the 2020 census, revenues and consumption has declined significantly which means business owners will need the continued support through programmes such as the Additional Restriction Grants (ARGs). We look forward to working with Local Authorities to ensure vending businesses have the financial support they need to see them through this pandemic.”