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Innovations in retail will change the way we do business

There were some exciting innovations at this year’s National Retail Federation (NRF) BIG Show in New York. Vending machines and systems were featured in a number of exhibits including: cold beverage vending machines; an exciting new coffee kiosk/vending machine; new kiosk dispensing systems; and payment systems, devices and operating/control systems with applicability for our industry. There was a really interesting and very important education session, Digital Malls: The Next Generation of Self-Service Shopping.

Is everything about retail shopping changing? Is our history and experience in self-service retail actually a huge advantage? Do we know and understand how to meet shopper needs for self-service better than traditional retail channels?  Is there a benefit in offering ‘unstaffed’ retail versus having sales/service staff to assist and serve shoppers? Maybe we are at new beginning, a tipping point, where our channel leads the way to an entirely new world of self-service retail shopping.

Industry take-aways

For vending, micro-market, onsite foodservice and OCS operators, there are four big things to take away from the NRF Show:

  1. What we call vending is changing dramatically: These are innovations we could not have imagined ten years ago. There are exciting new self-service retail systems coming to market. The result will be a much better shopping experience – incredibly more engaging for the shoppers we serve. It will expand our ability to offer product categories we do not currently sell. We will be able to sell a broader selection of products and package sizes. The products we sell and our merchandising will get “better” because the next generation of vending machines and kiosks are ‘high-tech’ on the inside and ‘high-touch’ on the outside.
  2. Our ability to communicate with shoppers is unlimited. It’s time to move beyond the limits of visual merchandising. Today only a few operators are capitalizing on this opportunity. They have seen very positive results; more about that later. It is critical that to move quickly to maximize and monetize these tools to reach our shoppers and listen to what they tell us. The tools we need, hardware and software, are readily available. We’ll share insights and ideas from presentations and research from the NRF Show. You’ll learn why we need a two-way communications process. It is even more important now as digitally-connected young people become an increasing proportion of the shoppers we serve.
  3. We must deploy a new “tool-kit” to change the way we serve our locations. People, the shoppers we serve, have new and different expectations concerning what a retailer should offer. It’s critical  to be out in front of these changing needs. If not, we will watch other channels steal our sales. Those competing channels, especially convenience stores and fast food restaurants, have been very effective in adapting their communications capabilities (and their menus and store designs) to be much more appealing versus what we offer. 
  4. It’s time to act – right now. The time for thinking is over. We can’t afford to wait. Younger people are highly engaged in social media and tablet computers, smartphones and cashless payments. In one presentation, the term über-digital was used to describe a group that is generally younger (Generation Y – ages 18 to 34) and more likely to be male (63 percent vs. 37 percent female). Smartphones are their primary communications mode. It is how they to research and plan their shopping. Many use digital connections to shop in-store. They communicate with friends to get and share information about virtually they do – including shopping. This über-digital cohort is 18 to 24 months ahead of the trend for digital shopping. Be aware that the rest of the population will be following behind these tech-savvy young people.

Prepare for change

The question is: Are we ready for these dramatic changes in shopping behavior? With so many  exceptional innovations available, we cannot afford to wait. We are at risk of falling behind. Our shoppers, and our competitors, are changing even faster than we are.

Now is the time to begin our journey to win in the new digital age. Get started today!