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Getting a Fix on Which Way the 'Vend' is Going (Part 1)

The latest on self-service laundry payment trends

CHICAGO — For the longest time, a customer in a self-service laundry washed or dried their clothes by inserting a preset number of coins or tokens into a mechanism connected to a washer or dryer. That’s still true today but as technology has taken greater hold, so too have the options for paying.

Payment by coin is still the preferred method used in Laundromats today but the share of cashless (coinless?) stores is growing larger by the year.

Depending on the system used, customers can transfer a dollar amount to a “store card” or “loyalty card” (using cash or a credit/debit card; systems vary) that is then used to start a machine, or can use a credit, debit or EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card to start one. Some systems enable stores to accept coin, credit card, store or loyalty card, or a combination.

And let’s not forget the newcomer: app-based payment platforms that allow customers to pay for wash cycles and dry time using their mobile devices.

In the annual American Coin-Op State of the Industry survey for 2019-20, regarding payment types, 91.5% of responding store owners said they offer coin, 42.4% offer card, and 22% offer other non-coin systems (store owners were asked to identify every type that applied to their operations). Roughly 49% of respondents said they offer customers more than one type of payment, compared to 31% last year.

Store owners are seeing the advantages that cashless payment systems offer but still believe in offering coin payment, too. But what about cashless overtaking coins as the preferred payment method used in Laundromats? Do you think that will happen?

American Coin-Op interviewed experts from nine companies that offer payment systems and related products. Let’s hear what they have to say about today’s payment trends and where they see things going as technology and customer preference evolve.

CARD/MOBILE OPTIONS GAIN GROUND

Payment by coin remains the dominant payment type in vended laundries but payment by card and/or mobile app continues to gain ground. Why?

“Coins are a huge hassle to manage (and) currently there is a shortage due to COVID-19,” says Charlie Pasquale, CEO of BCC Payments, which offers a cloud-based integrated payment, control and POS system. “We see the cash market moving toward cash reload stations and avoiding coins altogether. Mobile is the simplest transaction for both the owner and customer.”

“As the capacity of washers and dryers have increased over the years, so has the vend price,” says Steve Marcionetti, president of Card Concepts Inc. (CCI), which offers laundry card payment, marketing and management solutions. “Inserting 32 quarters to start an $8 machine is not convenient. Swiping a loyalty card or credit/debit card or using a mobile device is undeniably faster and more convenient.”

“Today’s laundry customer is more acclimated to utilizing alternative payment methods in many areas of their everyday life,” offers Wayne Lewis, CEO of ESD, maker of a diverse range of payment system products from coin to mobile. “The adoption of this technology in the laundry industry is a natural progression and will continue to grow. This is especially true under the current pandemic conditions that everyone is operating under.”

“For owner/operators, card systems and mobile payment apps can reduce or eliminate the effort in managing and collecting coins as well as provide live reporting,” says Jim Costeines, global sales manager for Greenwald Industries, which offers a range of payment solutions from coin vending to smart card systems and payment apps. “For end-users, today’s technology products significantly simplify doing laundry, as mobile apps provide information on machine availability, time to complete the cycle, text messaging at cycle end, as well as providing reward programs, thus enticing loyalty.”

Butch Bruner, president of Imonex Services Inc., which offers coin and token acceptors, says nine out of 10 Laundromats offer coin as a pay option because it’s the “most intuitive” format and universally known.

“The untold story in vended laundry is the rising popularity of dollar coins circulating in stores,” Bruner says. “Paying with dollars is the third most popular option behind quarters and proprietary cards, according to the latest Coin Laundry Association study.

“Laundry owners want to be in on the latest pay technology. Some are embracing it by tweaking their coin-op set-ups with a one-stop credit card-to-token option as a cost-efficient cashless alternative to deploying devices at every machine’s pay point.”

“The electronic payment system market, like any competitive market, is naturally improving,” comments Oleg Stepanov, representing payment systems provider Mitech Integrated Systems (Laundroworks). “There are more features, the technology has become more reliable and refined, and there’s more choice.”

Payment by card is growing because it “doubles your income, and offers more conveniences as well as benefits for the owner and his members/customers,” says Jacob Lefkovits of payment systems provider The Laundry Pass.

“Other payment methods are gaining ground simply because of convenience,” says Paresh Patel, founder and CEO of PayRange, which offers a mobile payment solution. “The simplicity of using a card or mobile app is something that cash just cannot compete with.”

“Even pre-COVID, most new investors realized that they could not operate a Laundromat efficiently with only accepting cash,” says Michael Schantz, president of Setomatic Systems, whose company offers a system that accepts all forms of payment. “Payments are a key aspect of the customer experience and being able to pay for your wash the same way you pay for anything else you buy is extremely important.”

In Part 2 on Thursday: COVID-19’s impact on payment choices, and the benefits of cashless