Walking the Self Service & Kiosk Expo at New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center a few months ago was an exciting and energizing experience. When visiting an exhibit to learn more about new developments, my first question was, “How would that function if we built it into a vending machine?” Or, “Would that device be adaptable to be deployed in a vending machine?” Almost every time, the answer was, “Yes! We could adapt this to work with a vending machine.”
This is an important realization when you consider the current state of the vending industry. Vending as it is known today is not meeting the needs of consumers. Vending as it exists today was designed to meet the needs of the 1950s consumer.
Customers Demand Change
Other retail venues have changed over the years. For vending to remain relevant, it too must change. Vending and onsite foodservice are at risk of being considered old, slow and boring – especially by younger customers who are technologically savvy and looking for the latest and newest conveniences.
One thing I learned at the Self Service & Kiosk Expo is that the self service kiosk industry is a valuable partner for the vending industry in looking at new ways to make the customer experience more appealing.
The show floor displayed a broad array of technology being applied to kiosks, digital signage, point-of-sale systems, self check-out (and check-in), hand held devices, and much more. Some applications were kiosk ordering systems for restaurants. Others were for retail stores to deploy gift registries. Some produced merchant gift cards. Still others were entertainment applications, including video rentals.
We are encountering increasingly sophisticated kiosks deployed in a wide range of venues. Consumer acceptance of kiosks, instead of human interaction, is becoming a reality. The ability for a kiosk to connect to the Internet (at increasingly lower cost) is making it possible for many of these new technologies to reach the public in a cost efficient manner.
The next generation of applications is being developed. It will be here soon, whether you’re ready for it or not.
Consumers View Vending and Kiosks as the Same
Vending and kiosks are seen as different things in their respective channels of business. But the consumer, the customer facing the vending machine or kiosk, does not see the differences. Consumers do not segment what they use or what they’re doing.
A key factor in today’s self service market is transaction time. If the customer doesn’t have to stand in line to wait for service, they save time. And it works for the service provider, too. They save labor costs by not needing to deploy more staff to serve customers.
Shopping at vending machines is slower and far less exciting than shopping in other venues. Gen Y shoppers will go elsewhere. Attracting and keeping these younger shoppers will determine the future and success of vending and onsite foodservice.
Debit and credit cards are the preferred payment method for Gen Y shoppers. Cashless payment systems save time for customers and generate incremental sales (and profit) for retailers.
In the not-too-distant future, cell phones will be the payment method of choice. Are you ready for the future? Understanding your customers is the key.
Kiosks are being widely accepted by the public across many venues.
One exhibitor at the expo that has also exhibited at vending trade shows is Solara Technologies, an integrated systems developer and application service provider of Internet-based remote management services. Solara Technologies has integrated a touchscreen point-of-purchase terminal in vending machines and is already testing them in the field.
The Future of Vending is Off-site Control
Dorn Beattie, president of Solara Technologies, said, “The future (of vending) is about bi-directional control.” That refers to being able to change vending machine prices from your office as well as observing transaction data and machine access.