Survey: Gen Z fuels vending machine surge

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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woman at kiosk

Unattended retail (i.e., vending machines and automated kiosks) has grown in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with younger consumers.

According to a new survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults from digital payments and software services company Cantaloupe, 90% of respondents used unattended retail as much or more during the pandemic. However, younger consumers were the most likely to increase usage during that period.

Twenty-three percent of respondents between the age of 18-34 said that the pandemic increased their usage of unattended retail, compared to 18% of 35–54-year-olds, and only 4% of respondents over 55 years of age. Nearly half of respondents who increased usage in unattended retail during the pandemic cited speed (49%), social distancing (49%) and convenience (47%) as reasons for the increase. Sixty-eight percent of those respondents said it is important to have a touchless option post-pandemic.

[Read more: Travel retailer’s newest store model is an interactive vending machine]

Forty-one percent of respondents who purchased an item through an unattended channel in the three months prior to the survey said unattended options make them more likely to shop in a retailer’s other channels in the future.

While debit and credit are the most preferred unattended payment method overall (67%), nearly one in five respondents (19%) prefer cash, and 12% prefer payment apps like Venmo, Google Pay and others. Interestingly, among those respondents between 18-34, 25% prefer cash. This compares to only 11% of participants 55 and over.

Of those who purchased products through unattended retail in the three months prior to the survey, 37% said they continue to make purchases through unattended once per week, with 19% purchasing once a month.

Eighty-two percent of respondents have some interest in purchasing non-traditional items from a vending machine, and the increase has grown significantly since 2019, the time of the last survey. Clothing showed the greatest two-year increase with 70% of respondents interested in purchasing these items now, versus only 55% in 2019. Health and beauty showed a significant increase as well, with 71% % in 2021 compared to 64% in 2019.

Sixty percent of respondents (up from 49% in 2019) said the speed of unattended retail was driving usage overall, with 45% of respondents noting that not having to talk to a store employee and having shorter lines were also key drivers (compared to 35% in 2019).