Micro market operators serve a vital role in providing employers with nourishing meal and snack options to keep their workforce happy, productive and on-site. This essential service grew even more important throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, when many restaurants and company cafeterias were temporarily shut down, limiting employees’ breaktime options.
While the unattended nature of micro markets already offered a safe shopping environment for customers, innovative technologies have enabled operators to expand customers’ contactless payment options. By reducing the need to touch common surfaces like kiosks or coffee brewing equipment, micro market customers can safely and efficiently purchase food and beverages to fuel their workday.
Here are three ways operators have leveraged technology to improve the customer experience—and help rebuild revenue lost during the pandemic.
1. Operators took advantage of downtime during the pandemic to upgrade technology and equipment in preparation for the safe reopening of break rooms.
Many operators reported a slowdown in business at the onset of the pandemic. Savvy operators used this time to upgrade technology and equipment that could help their clients prepare for the returning workforce. They were able to do this because suppliers moved quickly to respond to the shifting needs of operators and their clients.
Three Square Market focused on a rapid development and deployment of its Cooler Café, a locked cooler with an attached kiosk that enables users to buy food and beverages. This simple, affordable solution uses the same back-end and inventory system as the company’s existing micro market technology, providing an easy integration for existing accounts.
The kiosk is typically the most-touched area of the micro market, so Three Square Market updated its kiosk to reduce touchpoints by enabling a contactless checkout process. Once customers select their food or beverage items from the cooler’s shelves, the credit card reader prompts them to insert their card or use “tap to pay” to complete the transaction.
"In the midst of COVID-19, we spent our time looking for ways [to] take our technology to the next level, allowing our friends and clients in the vending and convenience industry to keep their businesses alive and profitable," Co-Founder and President Patrick McMullan said at the time of the product’s launch.
2. Forward-thinking operators are refreshing micro market coffee service, aided by new technologies.
The coffee service area is another highly touched area of the micro market, given that customers like to customize drinks to suit their individual preferences. During the pandemic, equipment suppliers unveiled technology updates to help operators provide safe coffee service to these guests.
VirtualTOUCH is one of many touchless technologies to hit the market in recent months. A partnership between 365 Retail Markets and Bunn-O-Matic Corporation, the solution is powered by the 365Beacon, a plug-and-play device “that enables customers to scan and pay for products directly from their mobile devices,” and BUNNlink, a cloud-based technology originally developed to enable remote equipment monitoring.
With VirtualTOUCH, operators can easily integrate a touchless solution that works with all 365 micro market points of sale and the 365Pay app. Micro market customers can access a full beverage menu through their phone, along with step-by-step instructions and prompts to complete the transaction with the user’s Global Market Account.
In addition to VirtualTOUCH, the company offers antimicrobial films to cover common contact points such as touchscreens, switches and handles. Any Bunn server can be outfitted with easily installable push faucets that prioritize clean contact in beverage dispensing, supplying multiple ways for operators to upgrade existing equipment for safe service in the post-COVID world.
3. Operators are expanding services to help meet clients’ changing needs.
This year, operators quickly pivoted to replace lost revenue and provide solutions for clients by sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitization products. Some operators, like Andrew Didier, CEO of Agora Refreshments, launched a delivery service to help employers transfer workplace perks to employees working from home—and boost its own bottom line.
Agora’s Remote Breakroom service allows employers to curate a break room snack box that Agora delivers to employees at home. “We’ve noticed that for parents who are also taking care of kids or having to homeschool, grab-and-go snacks are helpful to nourish kids, as well as yourself, throughout the day,” Didier says. “We’ve had a good response: I’d say our snack revenue has doubled.”
Giving clients a delivery option is an effective way to keep accounts active throughout the pandemic and build goodwill, but it only works if the operator can scale the service. LightSpeed Automation recently launched a home delivery program that allows LightSpeed customers to streamline home delivery service through a simple template.
“Orders flow directly into LightSpeed to be picked just like a vending or market order,” explains David Marler, vice president of sales and marketing at LightSpeed. “Once picked, the order is shipped using Shopify’s shipping module, and you get the benefit of using their extremely low shipping rates. You can literally get into the home delivery business in just a couple of days.”
Although “business as usual” is anything but in the ongoing pandemic, micro market operators are continuing to provide quality food and beverages and superior customer service, with the help of technology and other operational best practices. Find more resources to help you run your micro market more profitably here.