June 8, 2015 04:48 PM

When vending machines were introduced to London in the late 19th century, they were the earliest form of faceless, instant commerce. They’re the original self-service kiosk, according to Mickal McMath of Lafayette-based vending machine leader M&M Sales Company, the kind of instantly gratifying, human contact-avoidant point of sale people have flocked to since the dawn of online shopping.

Mickal McMath
As far as commercial interfaces go, vending machines have long been delivering the online marketplace experience “in real life” as the kids like to say. Look through glass at a grid of products, push a button and the world is yours, so long as it doesn’t get caught on the dispenser coil.

Think about Millenials and how they shop and how they interact with people. You’re seeing more and more self checkout. Online shopping is fast, easy, no human interaction, and the payment is quick and easy,” says McMath. “Vending machines are the ultimate self-checkout.

Apple Pay on a Coke machine

Locally at least, self-serve vending machines, of which M&M operates 4,000 state-wide, had not caught up with the way people like to pay until recently. According to McMath, even as credit and debit payments increased in other retail sectors, in vending machines cash was still king. Reluctant to see their cash sales "cannibalized" by a switch to credit/debit payment, McMath's company had only slowly adopted swipers to accept card payments.

Enter USA Technologies, a self-service transaction company out of Pennsylvania headed by CEO Steven Herbert, an LSU graduate and native of Slidell. With USA Tech’s help, McMath’s company is set to retrofit 3,000 of its machines with fully cashless apparati, integrating the now standard magnetic credit/debit payment systems with the latest in cashless payments: near field communication devices accepting smart phone-based mobile payment protocols otherwise known as mobile wallets. The remaining 1,000 were too outdated to support USA Tech’s devices, and will be fully replaced.

Steve Herbert - CEO USA Technologies

USA Tech has been investing in mobile wallet technology for 10 years, seeing a potentially geometric growth in its use among millennials who have flocked to the opportunity to apply the speed and security of online-type payment processing to IRL purchases. Apple Pay’s inclusion on iPhone 6 and newer versions of the ubiquitous smart phone have driven droves of banks and vendors to partner with the company to begin accepting encrypted mobile payments initiated with a finger print match by the user at participating vendors.

Staying current with the payment proclivities of future generations was obviously in the best interest of McMath and his multi-generational vending company. The McMaths have been serving snacks to Acadiana and beyond since 1949. Operating scores of vending machines in tech-savvy markets like on campus at UL Lafayette, the company had recently moved to include more debit/credit payment options to their machines, despite initial concerns that it would decrease cash sales. What they found was that the expanded payment options increased sales dramatically for their business, reaching consumers that had stopped carrying cash.

Though mobile payments currently make up a small percent of M&M’s cashless sales, national trends toward programs like Apple Pay and Google’s Android Pay show a promising future for the technology. For now, USA Tech’s devices will allow McMath and company to stay current with national trends, and ahead of the pack in local retail for at least a couple more generations. In the meantime, McMath expects students at UL and other tech-savvy consumers will use the mobile wallet payment option as they become more aware of its availability.

For Herbert, he’s excited to get the chance to grow mobile payment technology in his home state, especially with a multi-generational family-owned operation like M&M.

“You can live for 100 years, but if you were born and raised in Louisiana you’re always a Louisianian,” Herbert says.

Still carrying around burlap sack full of cash and coin? You’ll still be able to get your Snickers fix at an M&M machine for the time being. With 25% of American households handling cash as their primary currency according to McMath, it’s not getting left out of vending machines as a pay option any time soon.

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