The vending industry has a big customer education job to do in order to improve its growth opportunities. That much is evident from the results of a recent consumer survey sponsored by the National Automatic Merchandising Association and conducted by Harris Interactive. The results were presented at the recent NAMA expo in Orlando, Fla.
The research revealed that consumers are generally unaware of the healthy offerings currently available in vending, largely unaware of technological advances, and generally hold vending in low esteem in terms of value compared to other retail venues.
While much of this isn't news to operators, Mike Dabadie, research vice president of Harris Interactive, believes there is a lot operators can do to improve the value proposition they bring to the table. The first step is understanding how consumers define value. Once they do this, they will recognize that they can meet consumer expectations by better positioning themselves.
The research covered vending consumers' perceptions, expectations, usage patterns, and habits. The findings also included insight on barriers, pricing, and alternative payment methods.
The complete results are available to NAMA members at the NAMA Website, www.vending.org. This article includes a small sampling of the total results.
NAMA members can access "cross tabulations" and "research tabulations" at the Website. This type of information will allow a member to sort and dig deeper into the entire report in order to apply the research to their company.
The objectives of the study were to understand the drivers of vending use, evaluate the barriers to vending use, explore areas for increased vending use, measure the awareness of healthy options in vending, and determine ways to create a healthier image.
Researchers conducted 15-minute interviews with 2,223 consumers, age 14 and above, over the Internet. This resulted in a sample in which about three quarters (73 percent) are vending users and the balance are not users. The researchers believe this sampling reflects the U.S. population.
Key findings are as follows:
- Positive perceptions of vending include convenience and ease of use;
- Negative perceptions include lack of fresh and healthy products, poor selection and low value;
- Use of branded products is key to sales; 70 percent decide what to buy after they browse; if a known product is not there, the sale might be lost;
- 60 percent of consumers are eating more healthy food;
- The level of awareness of healthy snacks in vending is low;
- Most consumers recognize individual responsibility to make healthy choices, but think the industry has a role to play;
- Users express high brand loyalty;
- Promotions are a good way to introduce new products;
- Non-users buy most snacks at grocery stores;
- Non-users feel vending is not a good value;
- Users feel vending prices are generally high;
- Convenience, price and variety are why consumers bypass vending for other snack sources;
- Only 15 percent of consumers are aware of new vending technology to assist purchases;
- Technology ensuring product delivery increases the likelihood of purchase;
- An opportunity exists to increase vending appeal through credit card purchases.
Consumers rate water high
The researchers asked consumers about their own eating habits and found that the majority (53 percent) are consuming more water than three years ago. Water led all products in consumption gain, followed by fruit (36 percent) and healthy snacks (35 percent).
Asked what products they are consuming less than three years ago, candy, cookies, cakes and donuts topped the list at 40 percent, followed closely by regular soft drinks at 38 percent, ice cream at 31 percent and salted snacks at 30 percent.
These findings indicate that the strongest sellers in vending are among those products consumers say they are eating less of. This presents an inherent problem in seeking to appeal to healthier eating habits.