Welcome to 2012! Hopefully you got a chance to rest and reflect and are ready to grab the bull by the horns.Business observers dont see any dramatic economic changes on the horizon. But its obvious the younger generation are leaving their fingerprints in a bigger way this year than last. Just look at all the tablet and smart phone apps being advertised everywhere you look.Retail sales are not much stronger than last year at this time, with the caveat that online sales are up 15 percent. Thats the younger generation talking, and the rest of us following their lead.One thing about these omnipresent smart phone apps is they make the shopping experience more meaningful to the consumer than going to a brick and mortar store. Its a fully fledged lifestyle revolution, and has the capacity to make or break us.Mobile purchasing is leveling the playing field among retail outlets. Armed with comparative product and price information and directions to get to the best value, consumers have been empowered to shop when they want, where they want. The vending industry needs to stake its claim to this new mobile real estate. They can start by investing in contactless payment readers. Once the electronic wallets (such as Google Wallet) become established, vending machines equipped with contactless readers will win their fair share of mobile purchases.The smart phone revolution is consumer trend number one.Number two, jobs remain an issue in 2012. Some economists think employment will gain a percentage or two, but pre-2008 prosperity remains a long way off. But remember the silver lining. With many skilled people looking for work, employers (including us) can expect more from their employees. Nows the time to fine tune the employee performance and evaluation process.Health and wellness ranks number three. The winter holidays have reminded us of last years diet resolutions. Studies continue to paint an alarming picture of the nations health.The Food & Drug Administration missed its 2011 deadline for releasing calorie disclosure rules. But in the meantime, vending operators know they need to provide nutrition information. By now, all operators should be doing something in the area of educating customers about health and wellness.The industry will have one year after the calorie disclosure rules are announced to comply, and no one knows how the rules will be enforced. But operators already know that if they provide nutrition information at the point of sale, they will be in compliance. The National Automatic Merchandising Association is working on a calorie disclosure smart phone app.Number four, sustainability and the environment are huge consumer issues. The vending industry has made a lot of progress with things like more efficient vehicle routing, container recycling, and LED lighting on machines. Customers want to know we are doing these things, and we need to let them know.Number five, but not any less important than the issues listed above, is the self checkout market. The train continues to move at top speed. Suppliers of these systems are placing them almost as fast as they come off the assembly line. Whats most amazing at this point about these merchandisers is that the vending industry remains the sole provider of these systems that take consumer convenience to a new level. This speaks to the unique relationships that vending operators have with their core customers the work site managers. The self checkout market has come into its own at a time when consumer demand for quality, variety and convenience have reached a new peak.Historians may look back at this time in history when automatic merchandising was reborn.