NAMA OneShow Displayed A Wealth Of Touchscreen Interactivity; For Now, More Questions Than Answers

Last weeks National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) OneShow was perhaps the most engaging vending industry trade show ever. It was engaging because so much visual activity enriched machine fronts in many of the exhibitor booths. Video touchscreens carried colorful graphic messages about products and nutrition, as well as entertainment. Some touchscreens invited attendees to engage in social media.Coca Cola Co., which took pioneering role in presenting its interactive vender last year, returned this year with its Freestyle machine, a touchcreen-controlled machinethat can dispense more than 100 different brands. There was a nonstop flow of traffic, as attendees envisioned the benefits of a vending version of this innovative fountain dispenser.The evolution of video touchscreens has converged with social media, and the vending industry has an opportunity to engage consumers like never before.NAMA, fully cognizant of these capabilities, has taken a lead role introducing vending technology to the public with its industry growth strategy, as reported on 05-02-11. The NAMA initiative recognizes Generation Ys embrace of vending and its comfort with technology.All well and good. Most OneShow attendees get the big picture. The industrys future is interactive and once the touchscreens and the support software become widespread, were headed to a brave new future.Whats not so clear is when this will happen.Operators are investing in technology more aggressively, but the touchscreens on display in Chicago require a new level beyond machines with DEX reporting capability, cashless readers and remote machine monitoring.Our magazines State of the Vending Industry Report indicates operators are investing in technology more aggressively, but the majority of operators have not yet equipped their machines with tools that became available several years ago.Gen Y is driving change, to be sure. But Gen Y is in the minority of vending consumers and will be for some time.Operators can only justify investment if they get a corresponding lift in sales. Much of what was on display at the NAMA OneShow needs to be field tested before operators can consider investing.NAMAs industry growth strategy will help prep the customer base, but market conditions need to change significantly for operators to take advantage of new opportunities.The technology is exciting, but right now there are more questions than answers about when it will change the industry as we know it.