Cashless payments, dynamic scheduling, vending management software —these technologies have been around for at least a decade, if not longer. Yet, the march towards implementation of technology in the vending industry has been slow. Progressive operators led the pack with the initial investments and data partnerships, but more cautious temperaments were common, keeping investments in software and hardware lagging. All that has changed, however.
In the last 5 years, industry specific technology has leapt forward. The percentage of vending machines with cashless readers for example went from 3.5 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2015. In 2010, our State of the Industry Report didn’t even ask about micro markets, but by 2015, these technology-enhanced refreshment solutions were accounting for 10 percent of overall sales volumes. There are more vending management systems than ever, and legacy systems are moving towards new ways of offering efficiencies, such as using mobile devices in place of handhelds. Read about the new path of vending data on page 26.
All the technology providers I talk to in the industry say the same thing — they’ve been busy. Busier than ever before. Undoubtedly, there is a push forward due to the younger generation moving up the ranks of the family vending, micro market and office coffee service businesses. They are more of the decision makers now, and have experienced the benefits of technology firsthand with technology in school, the rise of social media and even just with personal mobile devices. Another aspect is that as more operators add this technology, their competition must add it also, in order to remain competitive. I heard Alan Munson from Parlevel call it a type of “Keeping up with the Jones.”
Big data continues
Just as important as technology hardware, is the data it collects and how it is used. Our success story on page 50 talks about an operator who has been able to value people, but also data. It has opened doors to promotions with manufactures and suppliers. This is a story I’ve been hearing a lot lately, how there was suddenly more opportunity because the level of data available and quality of data was robust. The operator we featured this month said technology brought about such efficiencies in vending that when he launched micro markets, even their initial jump in sales didn’t make them as profitable as vending. All that has changed, of course, but it speaks to the power of technology and data.
The future of vending, micro market and office coffee service is hurtling towards us, and it is not business as usual. It is full of technology that puts control back in the owner’s hand. Plus it makes us more intuitive and usable for the consumer, who has changed so much. Smartphone interfaces, loyalty programs and cashless are just the beginning.