We ran into a well-established, respected vending operator at the National Automatic Merchandising Association Spring Expo, and he objected to the tendency of our editorials. "You're pushing all this new technology," he complained, adding that much of it is unproven and most of it is expensive. He recommended more skepticism on our part.
We do not think we've been pushing anything in particular. What we have been attempting to do is to inform our readers of developments that may affect the way they do business, so they can prepare to deal with the effects.
In fact, we pointed out in our conversation that we think a number of proposed new technologies probably are unnecessary, and some seem silly to us. We also pointed out that, over 35 years, we have much more often been wrong than right in our private assessments of the value of new ideas. That's why we keep those opinions private.
It is not we who will decide whether one or another remote vending machine interrogation system, or this or that cashless payment technology, is going to succeed or fail. Neither will the developer nor the manufacturer, nor the vending operator. This decision is in the hands of the customer - which, in vending, means two key groups: location managers and vending patrons.
Neither of these groups is homogeneous, of course, nor are the things that matter to them always easily understood. Beyond the obvious value patrons place on well-maintained, good-working vending equipment stocked with an appealing assortment of attractive, fresh merchandise, a variety of personal differences come into play. We rather suspect that the success or failure of "m-commerce," the ability to use a cellular telephone as a cashless payment medium for small transactions (vending or manual), will depend on the pleasure that younger consumers take in using these instruments. We, ourselves, are not eager to pay a premium to make a purchase by entering strings of numbers on a tiny keypad. But we are not 19 years old, either. In some parts of the world, the demographic cohort that makes greatest use of vending machines has, in tests, seemed to demonstrate great eagerness to do just that. And they will determine the future of "m-commerce."
It can be very difficult for a prospective seller to remember, always, that his or her own preferences make no difference to prospective buyers. What is at issue is their money, and they will spend it on things they prefer to buy. If these are the things the seller prefers to offer, everyone is happy and the enterprise prospers. If the seller prefers to offer something that the customer base does not prefer, then the enterprise will stagnate or expire.
Over years and decades, we all have seen some surprising failures on the part of large corporations to recognize this truism. There can be any number of reasons for changing the design or formulation of a successful item , production cost, efficiency, availability of materials, ease of packaging and distribution , but, if the end user does not find the result as satisfactory as the earlier version, it will not succeed, however agreeable it was to produce.
Vending operators generally express keen awareness of this principle when they are the intended consumers. Just about every change in vending machine design resulting from technological evolution has encountered more or less resistance from operators who suspect that the change was made for the benefit of the seller, not necessarily of the buyer. And many of those changes have failed, because the operator was right.
History has shown that, when an innovation does offer a more attractive proposition to the ultimate consumer, it does not require a great many operators to endorse it. One or two in any market area will suffice. When patrons clearly prefer fresh-brewed coffee to spray-dried instant, or first-in, first-out candy and snack machines to closed-front drop-shelf types, or the expanded selectivity of a glassfront vender, then the operator who starts to place the preferred equipment will compel his competitors to come to terms with it.
So we make no attempt to predict which developments will flourish and which will fall by the wayside. What we do predict is that the ones that appeal strongly to consumers (for whatever reason) are the ones that will succeed, whatever we or the majority of operators may think of them.