PopCom Making the Vending Machine of the Future

PopCom is reimagining retail kiosks for consumers and companies alike.

Vending machines as we know them—a customer chooses an item, inserts cash and punches in the corresponding letter and number combination—are on their way out. Modern digital technology is finally catching up with standalone retail machines, and Columbus company PopCom, formerly known as Solutions Vending, is leading the charge.

As the popularity of interactive kiosks booms—an estimated $38 billion market by 2023—PopCom is reinventing self-service retail with features like demographic analysis, face and emotion recognition, customer conversion rate calculation, ad retargeting and more.

“We are living in a high-tech world, but the kiosk and vending industry has not caught up,” said Dawn Dickson, Founder & CEO of PopCom. “There are about eight million vending machines in the US, and only about a million of those are smart, which just means they have touch screens and can accept credit cards. We developed software that leverages emerging technologies around the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve the experience for consumers, as well as provide better insights for brands.”

Customer data such as age, gender and location, helps shape a company’s sales strategies. Retailers have long collected customer data from brick-and-mortar transactions, but there was no way to account for the purchasing behavior of consumers at standalone kiosks. PopCom software uses data at the point of sale to allow retailers to understand how customers engage with their products—down to what facial expressions they made during the purchase—to determine if machines are placed in the right location and capturing the right audience.

Dickson developed the idea after launching her retail business Flat Out of Heels. She sold rollable ballet flats out of vending machines in high-traffic venues like the Atlanta Airport, but the vending machines offered no way to track the performance remotely to help her adjust her strategy or reposition the machine. Frustrated by an inability to calculate conversion rates, Dickson brought her idea to Rev1 Ventures’ Concept Academy where she honed her solution.

PopCom now has fully-functional prototypes and has raised capital to roll the machines out to market in 2018. They will initially target malls and airports and expand from there.

PopCom has attracted support and investment from several Ohio Third Frontier regional partners, including NCT Ventures and Rev1 Ventures, as well as Techstars, Backstage Capital, Canopy Boulder and more. Dickson said the interconnectedness of startup resources in Ohio ultimately persuaded her to launch her startup in Columbus rather than move back to LA where she had been living.

“Ohio’s very unique because there are multiple centers for innovation, but everything is so connected. I moved away and lived in Atlanta, Miami and LA for years, but my experience with Rev1 and then pitching at Rise of the Rest in Columbus opened my eyes to the dynamic startup community that’s been building here,” said Dickson. “It’s something I needed to be a part of.”

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