‘Where will we be in five years time?’ If you were to ask me, I’d have to tell you ‘well, that’s the $64,000 dollar question!’ The only thing that’s certain is that vending is going through a massive explosion of change.
My thought is that as an industry, vending will be virtually unrecognisable. These days, vending machines still depend upon fast food, chocolate bars, crisps and sugary drinks for the vast majority of their sales and this is a state of affairs which, one way or another, won’t be allowed to continue.
The obesity crisis: it’s a phenomenon we hear about on a daily basis and it’s not a British disease. On the contrary, obesity is casting a lengthening shadow over the entire developed world. In the UK’s schools and hospitals, the authorities are beginning to clamp down on the availability of such products but, to coin a phrase, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet.’ Currently, efforts are still piecemeal: in a hospital I visited recently, sugary snacks and chocolate had been banned from vending machines but right across the corridor, at the WRVS cafeteria, you could buy bacon sarnies, Mars bars, pastries…
In some US states, it is mandated that 75% of products offered for sale in a vending machine have to be ‘healthy’.
But in my view, the fight against flab is not the only thing that will change the face of vending, as we know it today. I’m convinced that there’ll be an upsurge of different products finding their way into the nation’s spirals. I’m a huge Rugby fan and I go to Twickenham a lot. I also like my music and I go to a lot of concerts. These events have in common many of the same venues – Twickenham is a good example – and huge crowds.
‘Where Will We Be In Five Years’ Time?’
Have you ever tried to buy merchandise at a major concert, or get a drink when the All Blacks are in the house? The queues are 10 deep; usually I lose the will to live and give up the ghost. But what if vending machines were used instead of, or as well as traditional stalls and bars? I see vending coming into its own as a queue-busting maximiser of sales.
It’s a common site at airports these days to see items such as headphones and phone chargers for sale through vending machines, but why not big-ticket items, too?
Connectivity is already playing a huge part in vending, but to be truthful that particular journey has only just begun. Connection to the IoT, for instance, means that we can monitor stock levels, the health of the system, service calls; a machine can tell the operator if it’s running out of change or needs maintenance. The days of sending an engineer just to make sure everything is alright are over.
How do we maximise the advantages of connectivity? You design machines with touch screens that are as intuitive to use as an iPad, you encourage greater interactivity, especially with social media users. More and more brands are using Facebook and Twitter to promote new products and with the preponderance of apps, some brand owners are already sending codes to customers that can be used to have a free sample delivered from a vending machine. Couple this with the advertising capability of modern screens and there you have it: a vending machine as an advertising medium that offers instantaneous fulfilment.
Yes, those who use an app to get the freebie are giving up their data, but the younger generation don’t worry about that in the same way that us older people do.
‘Where Will We Be In Five Years’ Time?’
One of the most effective focus groups I use consists of my kids and their friends. They use all types of payments with equanimity and they love online shopping. Ask them how they’d improve the online buying experience and they say ‘getting the product right now’.
It’s happening already. I went with my daughter to our local Apple store to buy a MacBook Air and when we asked an assistant in the shop, he asked us to order it online, and then one of his colleagues would bring it out to us. I mean, that’s a form of vending, isn’t it?
GDPR regulations have been introduced to protect the individual from unwanted, intrusive advertising, but my daughter and her cohorts are happy to get ads on the phones and computers that are the result of a previous purchase. They’re interested to receive the advertising that comes with it.
The younger generation is definitely less concerned, less threatened by offering up data. They see the positive side of it, they don’t have to trawl through rubbish to get to the information that interests them: it’s easier to find the diamonds.
Where will vending be in 5 years? It won’t be us middle aged folks that decide that. The people who’ll lead change 5 years from now are still in full-time education. And guess what? They’ve never known a world without the Internet… And if that doesn’t make you think, what will?
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*Simon James is SUZO HAPP MD, UK & Ireland.