While self-service applications from banking, to travel, to foodservice, to ticketing, to hotels are booming, many have forgotten that the original self-service applications were in the vending industry. The fact that vending was the first form of unassisted retailing (referred to as v-commerce) appears to have been lost as a result of implementation elsewhere.
Although the vending industry has been comparatively slow in adoption of innovative hardware, robust software, wireless networking, and enhancements to the customer experience, an opportunity for the vending industry to reinvent itself looms in the near future as self-service technologies continue to evolve and converge.
An effective self-service application should be a benefit to both the customer and vending operator. For the customer, the gain is in convenience, efficiency, and ability to control aspects of the transaction (e.g., product selection and payment). From an operator perspective, it involves reducing administrative expenses while providing quality service with meaningful customer relationship management (CRM).
Self-service has evolved into an operational mode that no longer should be viewed as merely a device-based channel for selling snacks and beverages. The placements of non-traditional products with connectivity to external goods and services are increasing in popularity.
When executed correctly, self-service technology can allow consumers a range of product choices with an assortment of methods of payment. The capabilities and features that are becoming so popular in Web-based businesses such as e-commerce and kiosk operations should be considered viable candidates for upgrading v-commerce functionality.
As consumer surveys continue to reveal that customers seek more self-service deployments throughout the business world, the vending industry needs to reignite the innovative spirit that originated unassisted retailing more than a century ago.
‘Generation P' arrives
Consumers aged 18 to 29, often referred to as “Generation P” for their preference for plastic (electronic) cashless settlement, grew up with advanced technology (cell phones, high-definition television, instant messaging, social networking, video podcasting, and interactive gaming) unlike any previous generation. As a result, researchers postulate, Gen P has a greater desire to exercise control over purchase decisions, which helps explain the explosion in self-service applications.
The vending industry must recognize the future isn't what it used to be as high-tech self-service applications are expected to permeate the business landscape for several years to come. Industry leaders need to consider changes in the way v-commerce is planned, managed, coordinated, and controlled. Especially since the number of Gen P consumers is projected to reach 91 million by 2017.
Several industries are transitioning to self service
An increasing number of industries are choosing to provide self-service technology options for their customers. Self-check-out at retail stores and supermarkets, pay-at-the-pump gas stations, self-check-ins at airports and hotels, online banking and stock trading, self-order entry at restaurants, and an array of dedicated devices (photo kiosks, DVD rentals, ticket machines, etc.) are becoming commonplace.
In most businesses, the transition from customer service to self service is an undeniable trend. As Web-based searches and touchscreen kiosks become more user-friendly and thereby capable of handling more complicated tasks, health care providers, fast-food chains and other businesses are trading face-to-face encounters for face-to-monitor transactions. It is expected to improve speed, accuracy, and operational efficiencies in unattended sales.
For example, in banking, the phrase “full service” used to refer to a teller capable of handling transactions affecting checking and savings accounts as well as safety deposit box access, and the processing of mortgage and loan applications. Now, full service means that the bank provides a wide range of services that avoid contact with the bank's tellers almost entirely.