Credit and debit card payments at vending machines could present a whole new realm of opportunity for independent sales organizations.

Many independent vending machine operators want to go cashless, says Stacey Finley Tappin, Apriva's senior vice president of North American sales and marketing communications. Even with Coke and Pepsi controlling 80% of the vending machine market, "there is a play here for ISOs. A handful could get into this market and be really successful," she says.

Apriva provides wireless gateway services for the machines, Tappin says. The company controls the data, manages the authorization and connects the machine to the payments processor, she says.

"When we entered this market in 2010, it was still really greenfield," Tappin says. "You had the vending operators going, 'Why do I need a merchant account? What's interchange?' "

ISOs can educate these vending operators, but those who succeed won't have an easy time of it, she cautions.

"It's not turn-key. It's not like the terminal space," Tappin warns. "You really have to do a lot of hand-holding. These folks are new."

The hardware's more complicated and harder to set up than payments terminals, she says.

ISOs would also have to invest in knowing who the vending operators are, understanding the market segment and having a relationship with the hardware providers, Tappin contends.

"It's more work than sell a merchant a terminal and be done with it," she continues. "There are multiple players involved in vending. The hardware can be quite expensive."

An independent vendor might have a thousand devices across a couple of university campuses and corporate headquarters, and the cost to go cashless by accepting cards in the machines could require a large investment, Tappin says.

Moreover, cashless vending machines make sense only in some locations, depending up on the clientele and the foot traffic.

But the market is growing rapidly as vending operators continue to add different types of products to the list of goods available from machines.

Besides the usual beverages and snacks, entrepreneurs are adding just about anything to vending-machine category, even designer purses, Tappin notes.

Travelers are buying iPhones and iPads at airport vending machines, indicating that big-ticket merchandise can sell in machines with the right location, she says.

As vending machines become more advanced, Apriva intends to tie them in with electronic wallets, QR codes and/or free merchandise for frequent customers.

The category also stretches beyond merchandise to any "unattended" commerce, such as newspaper boxes, laundromats, parking meters and car-charging stations, Tappin notes.

"We call our product offering 'Apriva Unattended Payments,' " she says.

Still, despite the upside, the market isn't right for all ISOs, Tappin suggests.

"It's a niche for certain ISOs that really want to spend the time understanding this market," she says.

ISOs could start by attending trade shows held by organizations like the National Automated Merchandising Association.

The shows' attendees include vending operators, large bottlers like Coke and Pepsi, hardware providers and gateway providers, Tappin says.

It's worth noting, she says, that ISO shows don't attract merchants but the vending shows attract the equivalent of merchants – the vending operators.

"So you can walk that show or have a booth as a merchant acquirer or processor and pick up a lot of business that way," Tappin advises.

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