Mobile: Threat On The Horizon

June 26, 2014

Using mobile technology is new to vending, but we must jump ahead of the curb or our niche consumer will go elsewhere. There is plenty of competition to the vending and micro market space – convenience stores, quick serve restaurants, even some drugstores selling food and snacks. Still vending and micro markets have a strong hold in the workplace because they are on-site. The captive audience uses the unattended retail because it’s convenient and hopefully a great taste and value. But there is a dark cloud on the horizon. Food delivery services ordered by mobile device.

One, now many

I recently read an article about Drizly – a liquor delivery service in the Boston, MA and Chicago, IL markets that allows consumers to order and pay via their phones for alcohol that is then delivered to their location. This is a novel idea in my area. Previously, mobile device delivery was only done by chain quick service restaurants, such as Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches. With newer apps, smaller restaurants, delis, even that local coffee shop that only serves soup and sandwiches now have the ability to add mobile ordering. Then one of the benefits of the vending and micro market goes away.

With start-ups jumping on the mobile delivery bandwagon, I see more potential competition for vending.

Old one – two punch

How does the industry fight back? First, make sure the vending and micro market area is as good as it can be – meaning the products there are what should be there. Using data to determine best sellers isn’t just good for the ROI of a business, but also, if the products match the consumers, they will return. I’m an iced tea drinker, especially in summer, but I’ve been to locations full of soda choices in the vending machine and not a single iced tea, despite the growing ready-to-drink tea trend. I’m not trying to point fingers, but show that using trends and your-own vending sales data will put the products your customers want at the point of sale, which in turn will keep them coming back (and more money in your pocket).

The second is to jump on the mobile bandwagon. I truly believe this is a great opportunity for vending to leapfrog ahead of other food service. If you have a commissary, think about allowing end users to “preorder” off your commissary menu the day before. If you don’t, embrace other mobile benefits, such as mobile payments and discounts, two things that according to research done by the National Restaurant Association, consumers are looking for from a food retailer.

I’ve written before about the surge in mobile and how I think it will benefit vending if enough people embrace it, but seeing new companies who have a mobile presence makes me anxious. Operators can’t afford to be as cautious as they have been in the past. In my opinion, mobile is vending’s fresh battery to keep it going and going and going.