Interactive media can renew vending, will add new blood

When I attended my first kiosk/digital signage expo in 2008, there were no snack or beverage vending machines on the show floor, and as far as I could tell, no vending operators in attendance.

Last month, at the ninth annual Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas, I saw several snack and beverage machines with interactive media touchscreens and other capabilities.

There weren’t a lot of vending operators in attendance, but there were some, which speaks to the reality of a changing industry. They came not just to see the interactive vending displays, which alone was worth the trip, but all the interactive merchandising, wayfinding, facial recognition and messaging tools on the show floor.

Technology blurs barriers

The show targeted a wide variety of user groups, known in the digital signage trade as “verticals.” People from ad agencies to retailers to government to business and industry attended. Digital signage, powered by broadband mobile Internet, is blurring the barriers between these different “vertical” segments.

The technology providers, unlike vending and the other “verticals” currently investigating digital signage and interactive media, stand at ground zero before a rapidly expanding industry. They carry no assumptions about the future as they seek to redefine retail commerce and many other venues of human interaction.

Hundreds (if not thousands) saw the vending systems on display, such as the VE Connect content management platform with universal control board applications, near-field communication payment applications, the Intel® audience impression metrics suite and product recognition that support the vending operator’s need to control and monitor transactions and interactions.

Hundreds (if not thousands) saw the Kraft Foods’ food sampling machine and the SandenVendo glassfront cold beverage machine with a 65-inch transparent touchscreen and anonymous facial recognition that determines gender and age.

Among those who envisioned new possibilities, how many were grabbed by the entrepreneurial itch to redefine vending? In this age of mobile broadband and Internet connectivity, we’ll be finding out sooner than later.

People from numerous business disciplines soaked up the possibilities as they walked the show floor. Many were anxious to learn more about vending after seeing what these interactive tools can do for it.

Those of us with a working knowledge of vending fielded questions about the industry as it now exists. We ultimately had to explain the structural barriers that presently restrict operators from investing in future tools. Issues such as space limitations in machines. Reliance on the dollar bill that limits selections to small ticket items. Not to mention the numerous business practices that commoditize vending’s value to the end user.

But we had to admit that all these issues can and will end up in the ash heap of history. Answers to many of the vending industry’s challenges could be found on that trade show floor. All it takes is new blood, or a revolution in the existing vending operator mindset.

Please send your comments regarding this or any article in Automatic Merchandiser to