Business Management

Should your business offer micro markets, vending—or both?

December 10, 2021 | By Adrian Austin

Should your business offer micro markets, vending—or both?

Micro markets have been making a lot of noise in the unattended retail industry over the last several years, promising easier maintenance, fresher products, lower startup costs and greater revenue than more traditional vending alternatives.

In fact, as of 2020, there are more than 30,000 micro markets operating around the world, and they are projected to pull in over $7 billion in sales every year. The costs associated with bringing a micro market to life and its ROI are compelling when compared to traditional vending, too—and we even have a recent success story to prove it.

Yet, as promising and potentially lucrative as micro markets are, not every business scenario is perfect for a more open concept unattended retail presentation. To better understand the best application for a micro market, let’s explore what a micro market is alongside when micro markets, vending or both are a great option for your business.

What is a micro market?

At its core, a micro market is an unattended, self-service retail location that offers a cost-effective and convenient range of goods to consumers.

When is a micro market a great choice?

The traditional hallmarks of a strong micro market location are its closed-loop environment and relatively large customer base—typically between 150 and 200+ customers. This customer base helps offset historically larger setup costs and higher cost of operation. Fortunately, new advancements in micro market kiosks can support locations with only 50 customers due to decreased size and operating costs. With a POS that sits on a small and customizable footprint, your micro market can fit virtually anywhere. Couple that with low initial investment costs as micro markets are less expensive to set up when compared to vending machines, and your micro market can reasonably service a space with less than 50 regular customers.

Moreover, when compared to a more traditional vending machine configuration, micro markets inherently have more capacity to offer a larger and more diverse inventory of products. The scale and open availability tend to drive higher profits as consumers grab more products and create larger checks through upselling.

Because of its closed-loop environment and numerous potential customers, a micro market is often a great choice for a communal office, living space, hotels, distribution centers, cafeteria replacements and more. Outfit any closed-loop environment with a micro market to treat employees or residents to appetizing fresh food, enticing product displays and even a loyalty program that rewards them for their patronage.

While not limited to scenarios like those two, micro markets in living and working locations will work to generate strong streams of revenue and keep residents and employees happy with inventory diversity, product freshness and rewards.

When is vending a great choice?

While micro markets are becoming a strong option in many situations, there are some areas where vending remains the leading choice among unattended retail options. Despite requiring sometimes costly maintenance and having limitations on the types of products that can be offered, vending machines provide additional layers of security that allow you, the business owner, to put them in locations where micro markets may suffer from too much loss. Moreover, it’s likely that operators already have an inventory of vending machines paid for, so it’s essential that existing assets are put to good use.

In what examples scenario might vending be a better choice over a micro market? When your unattended retail location sits in almost any non-closed-loop environment, vending will be better suited because of theft concerns. In other situations where sales potential isn’t necessarily as high, vending may be a more operationally affordable way to maintain a presence without the fees associated with a micro market. Consider a mall, school campus or the entrance of a big box store. These locations represent traffic potential, but the ability to tap into those consumers requires the security only a vending machine can deliver. With a stream of anonymous passersby, it’s imperative that your unattended retail location is designed with a tried-and-true approach to loss prevention.

Of course, the best way to ensure you can take advantage of all those passing potential customers is with a payment solution that offers cashless convenience, complete security and live machine health monitoring.

When should a business deploy both micro markets and vending?

Most operators begin their unattended retail journey with vending before expanding into micro markets—unless you feel confident enough to jump into a more complex business with micro markets, the best path forward could be mastering your vending business first, then learning all you can about micro markets so that you can expand rapidly when ready. However, if you find yourself reading the above appropriate scenarios for micro markets and vending and nodding your head as you identify your own locations for each, then it might be your best bet to deploy both for your business. Think about the benefits and drawbacks each option brings to your potential utilization, and you’ll discover quickly that both can work well together.

Your traditional vending machines may sit in less secure locations that see fewer potential consumers while your micro markets can reside in more central locations that see a higher volume of consumers. If we return to the example of a residential building deployment, your vending machines could be placed in the laundry room while your micro market serves the lobby. Both locations see customers who are shopping for everything from meals to snacks, home goods and laundry detergent, but the laundry room itself is often much more remote and less secure than the lobby.

What you should absolutely consider as you mull the potential of deploying both variations of unattended retail in your business is the partner you deploy them with. Having an unattended retail approach that’s orchestrated by a single platform and hardware provider means native integrations, clarity in support and a whole lot more.

Whether micro market, traditional vending or both, Cantaloupe has you covered.

Fortunately, with solutions for everything from cashless acceptance at vending machines to an intuitively designed micro market point of sale and the back-office software to orchestrate your entire operation, Cantaloupe can power you to meet your consumers wherever they are.

We offer the powerful Yoke Platform for our micro market solution, featuring everything from a dynamic point of sale device to the software to build a loyalty program, manage inventory and monitor sales. If you need hardware or software to establish an efficient, profitable and easy-to-maintain vending solution, our ePort hardware series and Seed software solutions bring everything you need to succeed.

What makes sense for your business?

See how one company scaled dramatically, while increasing revenue and reducing maintenance costs with the Yoke platform.


Adrian Austin

Director, Product & Partner Marketing

With 6+ years in product management and marketing, Adrian thrives on being able to communicate the benefits of technological products to customers in easy-to-understand ways. He is an active member of NAMA’s Emerging Leaders Network and is the host for USAT’s quarterly education webinars.

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