Vending machine technology companies Byndl and USA Technologies are partnering to provide cross-channel marketing and customer service through mobile devices.

"We'll be able to route offers and communications to the mobile app, as well as real-time customer support that can be delivered in front of the vending machine," says Lori Salow Marshall, Byndl's CEO and founder. "So if people lose their money in a machine, or if a product isn't vended, their money can be refunded to them on the spot."

Byndl offers hardware and mobile marketing, payment and support services for self-serve machines, while USA Technologies provides wireless, cashless payments and consumer engagement products. USA Technologies has more than 6,000 customers with a total of more than 240,000 connections to its ePort Connect platform.

USA Technologies and Byndl will initially focus on vending machines that are in workplaces or college campuses. These machines have a better-defined user group than street vending machines do.

Byndl manages and delivers the mobile content via a cloud server. Its content can include nutritional information, ad campaigns or mobile games that encourage people to use nearby vending machines, in addition to coupons and location-based offers. "We're engaged with the game providers, the advertising companies, etc. to place that content onto the mobile app," Marshall says.

EPort Connect's users will be able to add Byndl mobile technology, enabling more options for account management, targeted marketing and gaming.

Byndl has a similar agreement for Sprout Retail's MDblue, a Bluetooth 4.0 device that plugs into a vending machine, enabling that machine to communicate and provide content for smartphones.

USA Technologies also has agreements with other companies such as Verizon, Visa, Elavon, Compass, Crane, AMI Entertainment, and offers an API for external developers to build payments technology for use in unattended retail locations.

Vending machines can look alike to consumers, making it hard for vending machine operators to differentiate their machines from competitors.  USA Technologies has helped provide differentiation through services such a mobile loyalty program for prepaid gift cards.

USA Technologies has also worked with Coca Cola and the telecom-led mobile wallet Isis on a vending machine mobile payments loyalty program.

Communication between mobile devices and the vending machines will be powered by USAT's eBeacon BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology, QR codes, Near Field Communication and text messaging services.

BLE is a relatively new way to enable mobile payments, and has been quickly adopted by companies like PayPal, shopkick and Mozido. It's also built into Apple's iPhones under the company's iBeacon brand.

"BLE continues to capture the imaginations of marketing and payments executives across the globe," says Jordan McKee, an analyst at Yankee Group, who says BLE's seamless nature and precision targeting capabilities make it an attractive technology. "The next 12 to 18 months will be marked by a wealth of BLE initiatives in verticals spanning far beyond just retail."

There are some questions surrounding BLE as a means to execute payments, McKee says, adding BLE's application thus far has been marketing-centric, and the lack of standards paired with the limited number of initiatives mean BLE is still in a nascent state for payments.

In Byndl and USA Technologies' case, the BLE readers would be placed on the vending machines to facilitate the connection between the vending machine and mobile device.

"BLE can enable an interaction between the phone and the machine, but any common protocol would be able to do that. [A secure] NFC solution would do that too," Marshall says.

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