For the past 20 years, much of the development in the vending industry has been focused on improving back-end efficiencies such as vending management software (VMS), DEX, telemetry, pre-kitting, pick-to-light, and dynamic scheduling.
Over the next 10 years, the industry will focus on increasing sales through creating rich, engaging user experiences, and allowing various payment options. It will be less about the back-of-house operations as it will be about what the consumer faces — the front side.
This will be a very big shift in the way operators think about their companies. But for this to happen, vending operators need to change the way they think about technology. There is a lot of technology investment taking place today. This is good, but most of it focuses on operations as opposed to improving sales.
My purpose in writing this article is to make the case for using technology primarily for the purpose of improving sales. I don’t think anyone would argue with me that improving sales is important for the financial health of our trade.
The key to improving sales lies in improving consumers’ experiences.
Consider the consumer’s experience
Consumers have become far too experienced with technology over the past 10 years to continue accepting user interfaces that require them to insert a dollar bill, have it rejected three times, straighten it up, reinsert a couple more times, and when finally accepted, try to remember which selection was needed, then press A-1 on the keypad. Oh, and if their chips get stuck, the consumer has to shake or kick the machine, or go without.
Consumers have gotten much more sophisticated over the past 20 years and have become accustomed to new experiences. It is not about the technology itself, but rather how the technology improves our experience.
But it is much more — it is about creating a unique, engaging experience for the consumer using the vending machine. It incorporates not only how they interact with the machine, but also everything that leads up to their interaction.
For example, there could be social media involved — a coupon code being sent via text, a Facebook contest, or a brand sending an instant promotion out via Twitter to the first 1,000 consumers who enter such a code at the machine.
It could also involve their personal mobile device. Imagine this: you work on the sixth floor of a building. Using your phone, you locate the nearest vending machines. The vending machines are located on the third floor breakroom. Before you head down there, using your phone you browse the products that are in that specific machine downstairs.
You can do sorting and filtering based on your dietary requirements. You can even build your “shopping cart” on the phone itself. As you’re browsing, you get a coupon from Mars for 25 cents off Snickers. Say you want the Snickers and Fritos. You have the option of using the wallet or other cashless payment and pay right on your phone. And you can see how many points you added to your loyalty card.
Then you go downstairs to the machine, simply present your phone to the machine and it dispenses the items almost immediately as you hold up your phone without having to press anything on the machine. On the displays, it says “Thank you Sarah, your Snickers and Fritos are dispensing now. A copy of the receipt has been sent to your mobile wallet.”
The process is streamlined, yet very rich and engaging. You were able to browse the items at your leisure, review what the top sellers in that machine were, maybe see some reviews from your co-workers, and figure out what you wanted without having to waste time standing in front of the machine. That’s smart vending.
A shift for operators
From the operator perspective, there will be a marked shift from using technology to reduce costs to improving sales. This is a monumental shift that will have a significant impact on the industry.