How the reverse vending machine learns to talk through the Internet of Things

Supermarkets score points with customers primarily through friendly and competent employees. But it's hard to imagine food retailing without vending machines and IT systems. People and machines still tend to harmonize poorly with each other - to the detriment of the customer. In an interesting article, the "Industry of Things" portal reported on the results of our "Retail Radar 2018" study - read the article here:

When a customer enters one of the more than 35,000 supermarkets or discount stores in Germany today, he is very likely to think of many things, but not of technical innovations, let alone the Internet of Things. For him, it's mostly about working through his (paper) shopping list as quickly and conveniently as possible, and ideally for as little money as possible. However, the customer does not want to do without the human factor in any case, despite the usually tight schedule. According to the Retail Radar 2018, three out of four Germans still strongly reject "ghost supermarkets" without staff and reward friendly service with fuller shopping carts. For the population-representative study at the beginning of the year well 1,000 Federal citizens were asked.

The technology used in the supermarket - so a further result of the study - provides with most customers however up-to-date rather for annoyance and strongly clouded consumption joy. For example, waiting times in front of defective or overcrowded reverse vending machines are among the biggest annoyances in the supermarket for around one in two customers. And anyone who is held up for minutes at the very beginning of their shopping trip by the tinny voice of a loudspeaker exclaiming, "Please, a member of staff is available to accept empties!" has little desire to prolong the shopping experience. He just rushes through the aisles and the reach for the good bottle of wine or the extra bar of favorite chocolate probably remains absent.


Retail managers and store managers should give the study results food for thought. After all, in addition to the reverse vending machine, there are numerous devices without which food retailing would be inconceivable today and whose failure would quickly stall the much-cited customer journey. The list ranges from freezers and baking machines to sound and lighting systems and the increasingly popular self-checkout (SCO) systems. Only if these systems run smoothly and contact the right employee in a targeted and timely manner in the event of malfunctions or service needs do they play to their full potential and allow the human "colleagues" to concentrate on the personal consultation, which is precisely still highly valued by customers.

Help here can be an open IoT platform, which retrieves the status information of a wide variety of devices via AP interfaces and distributes it in real time to individual employees or groups of employees (empties machine 80 percent full, cash register 2 will soon run out of change, a door of the refrigerated shelf at the dairy products does not close properly or an age release is necessary at the SCO checkout). The recipients receive the corresponding tasks or messages directly on a mobile device (cell phone, tablet or smartwatch), which is connected to the platform via an app.


This Call to Action is monitored via a feedback system (task accepted/completed) and transmitted to the sender or those responsible. This means that there is not only communication between the respective IoT-enabled device and an employee, but also between the employees themselves and between the store manager and his employees on the floor and at the checkouts.

Supermarkets in which such digital store management has been installed, for example as a software-as-a-service, have been able to reduce the walking distances of their employees by up to 75 percent. This not only directly increases availability for customers, but also reduces the physical strain on employees and thus ensures greater satisfaction, which in turn has a positive effect on the overall climate in the supermarket.

In cooperation with ReAct, Professor Dr. Monika Imschloß from the Department of Retail and Customer Management at the University of Cologne has found out how sensitively customers react to even small changes in the general conditions at the point of sale when shopping. "Our study proves that the atmosphere can have a decisive influence on the shopping experience and the shopping behavior of customers," summarizes Dr. Imschloß. In another study, the retail expert also found that even small inconsistencies in atmosphere can have a detrimental effect on customers' willingness to pay.


Directly integrated as an on-premise installation into the supermarket's IT system, switches and bells of any kind as well as emergency exits and rolling doors can be integrated into an IoT platform in addition to sales-related systems via GPIO (general purpose input/output), as is similarly known from smart home solutions. In addition, expansion stages are conceivable that enable comprehensive task management beyond the Call to action, which distributes planned or recurring tasks to employees individually via smartphone, smartwatch and the like at the time they are due.

And what do customers think of Supermarket 4.0? In this year's Retail Radar, hadn't they clearly spoken out in favor of employees and against vending machines? No, because their vote only relates to technology, which either cannot replace people or simply does not really work. So there is no sign of a general hostility to technology. On the contrary: according to the study, around half of those surveyed are already open to innovations such as cashierless shopping or navigation through the supermarket by smartphone. Humans and machines are therefore no longer opposites when it comes to everyday shopping.

Contribution from Industry of Things.