Consumer perception of vending has improved in recent years, so much that the public currently holds a more favorable view of vending than many vending operators realize. That's according to a consumer survey presented at the recent National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) OneShow at McCormick Place North in Chicago, Ill.
Speaking to a standing room only audience, Dan Mathews, NAMA executive vice president and chief operating officer, and John Healy, principal of Healy & Schulte, a Chicago public relations firm, gave an overview of a recent consumer survey of consumer perceptions of vending. The survey was designed to measure consumer attitudes about vending and identify growth opportunities.
The research concluded that the vending industry must change its self image.
Another key finding was that while most vending operators view convenience stores as their primary competitive threat, consumers do not hold this view.
The study concluded that the industry needs to promote vending as the most convenient form of retailing, and convenience should include all forms of payment, including cashless.
The study was the first consumer survey NAMA sponsored since 2006. Mathews noted that some of the same findings persist, but some have changed.
One of the key changes is that in 2006, more than half of the consumers said they would walk away from a machine if it doesn't have what they want. "That has changed some," Mathews said.
While 75 percent of vending users reported having had at least one bad experience with vending, more than 80 percent rated vending as positive or very positive, the study found. In addition, more than 50 percent of non-users rated vending positively.
"Taste and freshness were some of the top reasons for choices," Mathews said.
The study noted the disproportionately high image vending has among Generation Y (Gen Y) consumers, those aged 18 to 27. This finding was the basis of NAMA's new industry growth campaign, which VendingMarketWatch reported on 05-02-11.
The study found that Gen Y consumers choose vending over convenience stores, grocery stores and drug stores for buying a snack or cold beverage if all were equidistant.
Nonetheless, a perception does exist that vending products are not a good value for the money. The study found that more than half of non-users and a third of users believe this.
Hence, the industry must address the belief that vending machines are more expensive than other retail channels.
While Gen Y is an important target, Mathews noted that the industry cannot abandon its core users.
The survey noted that four of the nine reasons consumers gave for using vending less than they might are due to health perceptions. "Of all the regulations, this is perhaps the toughest," Mathews said. "Your core users are still buying sugary and salty snacks."
The survey found that consumers feel better about a company that offers healthy items even if they don't buy these items.
Mathews said another survey by Mars Inc. found that 78 percent of consumers at public locations and hospitals will not walk away if a preferred item is not available. The study also found that 58 percent will purchase a different brand in the same product category.
The Mars Inc. survey found that 25 percent of consumers know what they want when they approach a machine. It also found that 25 percent of the purchases are influenced by the presence of a specific brand or item.
The Mars survey further found that 60 percent of shoppers browse the machine before making a selection. This percentage is similar to what happens in convenience stores, Mathews said.
Mathews and Healy concluded their presentation by listing opportunities to convert non-users to users of vending:
- Perceived cost/value
- Greater variety
- Cashless payment options
- Assurance of freshness
- Assurance of reliability
- Clean machines
- Focus on core users wanting sugary/salty treats
- Focus on Gen Y and Gen X.