2014 NAMA OneShow - “Can You Hear Me Now?”

When I went to Chicago, Ill., last week for the NAMA OneShow my head was abuzz with thoughts of micro markets. I thought that would be the big topic of discussion and interest. While it certainly was, there seemed to be something newer crackling across the show floor – mobile as a payment vehicle and outlet for customer-machine interaction.

Abundance of mobile apps

There are at least six different companies offering some type of mobile payment or customer solution to vending, some new, some in addition to other cashless services. Mobile apps were rampant. I found this interesting given that vending has not, in the past, been particularly adoptive of technology, especially payment systems and digital signage. Last year’s State of the Vending Industry Report showed only 7 percent of workplace vending machines had credit or debit card readers and 0.2 percent had some kind of digital screen. In the next few months, I start on 2014’s report, so we shall see how the industry has changed in adopting technology. Certainty, there were more mobile-focused exhibitors at NAMA than in previous years.

From attending the show, I learned that reaching consumers through mobile devices has many advantages. In many instances the mobile payment option was easy to install, offered comparable or lower transaction fees and even included loyalty programs or searchable nutrition information. All solutions allowed a consumer to interact with a vending machine in a new way, often without huge physical changes to the vender. And this brings me to what I see as the best advantage – bringing excitement back to the machine.

Latest and greatest in POS

Customers are very familiar with vending machines. Vending operators often get asked about the newest equipment. Locations want the new merchandisers with fancy bells and whistles. I believe being able to easily add mobile payment or mobile interaction to the point-of-sale will be a key opportunity for operators at these locations. Imagine the excitement of a consumer that goes from a cash-only black vender to being able to use their mobile to purchase, look up the calories of each item in the machine, report a product got stuck, see how much they have to spend to get their next vending purchase free or even get offered the opportunity of a snack because they walked near the breakroom. Probably the biggest down side to the mobile phenomenon at NAMA was the sheer number of apps. It was a challenge keeping the features and key components of each offering straight.

The last two years, vending has seen some new business opportunities and equipment that will drive the excitement into the future. We as a species like variety and we are becoming more and more attached to our mobile devices. True, security concerns may keep some people from using their mobile device at the POS, but if the decision is between going hungry (because the user does not have proper change) or trying out the mobile app, I expect the user will at least try it. With the proper incentive, almost anyone would. 

While the different mobile solution providers will need to show the operator what they can offer, the right mobile program could bring the vending machine back into the limelight. 

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