Visitors to New York City’s Times Square and San Francisco’s Union Square got a refreshing surprise last month when Coca-Cola and Google gave away thousands of Coca-Cola beverages to celebrate the launch of Google Wallet. The free, secure cell phone app allows users to store credit or debit card information in their smartphones and transmit the data—and make a purchase—with a simple “tap” of the phone.

No Cash? No Problem

The partnership with Google highlights Coca-Cola’s vision for payment flexibility at vending machines. Cashless vending options, which accept credit and debit cards, are popular with younger consumers and can be found at malls, college campuses, hotels, airports, amusement parks and military bases. Over the next few years, Coca-Cola plans to introduce more cashless machines.

Right now, a small number of Coca-Cola’s vending machines accept credit and debit cards, but the company expects to increase that as part of its planned growth of SWIPE, a cashless vending solution developed by Coca-Cola. These machines will also tie to loyalty programs such as My Coke Rewards—Coca-Cola’s program that offers members rewards, such as movie tickets, magazine subscriptions, coupons, sweepstakes, special offers and more.

The free Google Wallet app adds a new dimension to cashless vending and is available for NFC-enabled phones, including the Galazy Nexus, LG Viper, HTC EVO 4G, Samsung Galaxy S3 and others.To showcase the technology at the two Coca-Cola events, Google provided preloaded Sprint Nexus S smartphones for visitors to experience Google Wallet and enjoy a complimentary beverage.

Embracing New Technology

“We’re investing in cashless vending because we know consumers are more likely to buy a beverage at a vending machine with this technology and because it greatly expands our ability to connect with consumers through loyalty and other targeted marketing programs,” says Dan Avenick, director of Vending Strategy, CCR. “The enthusiasm at the Google Wallet demonstrations in New York and San Francisco shows how much consumers are embracing this technology and, of course, how much they love our brands.”

This event follows Coca-Cola’s recent rollout of the second-generation Coca-Cola Interactive Vending machines (CCIV), first introduced at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and then in the United States in 2010. CCIV machines allow customers to watch video, play games and get information. Each CCIV holds up to 10 varieties of Coca-Cola beverages and boasts a 46-inch screen divided into three “zones.” With the machines, viewers can watch commercials for the available drinks, spin digital bottles for a detailed view (including nutritional information) and experience apps that offer a variety of games and messages about Live Positively, Coca-Cola’s companywide campaign that includes tips on making healthy food choices, plus information on Coca-Cola’s efforts to support recycling, conserve water, improve water access, protect the global climate, reduce its impact and many other initiatives.