From time to time, we’ve commented on the ongoing conversation that takes place in this industry. While a few subjects are dropped because of changes in society and technology, most remain part of the continuing discourse, taking their turns as hot topics but never wholly dying away.
For example, there has been little emphasis of late on the importance of timely, effective and well-publicized equipment service in building customer confidence and boosting sales, but the issue continues to come up. Alert operators are keenly aware that people are hesitant to buy from machines whose reliability they doubt, and they continue to seek solutions to speeding service-call response time and identifying problem equipment and locations. Handheld computers and affordable remote monitoring systems are providing such solutions.
One ongoing question that, in our opinion, deserves to be moved to the top of the stack is the nation’s currency. We have the “golden dollar,” and operators who use dollar coins like them very much. We still have the $1 bill, along with new technology that can pay it back as change for a higher-denomination banknote. Given the longstanding reluctance of Congress to address matters that the constituents do not recognize as a problem, there seems little likelihood that the $1 note will be withdrawn from circulation in the foreseeable future.
There remains, however, the $2 bill. Every now and then, someone remembers that this is still legal tender, and will remain so unless Congress formally acts to end its production. We remember the U.S. Army’s sensible practice, back in the pre-Vietnam era of the draft, of paying soldiers in cash and counting out that cash in the most efficient mix of denominations: if one received $67, one was given a $50, a $10, a $5 and a $2 bill. We suspect that this sturdy old policy went into history’s dustbin along with KP. But someone evidently is finding a use for the $2, since the Bureau of Printing & Engraving periodically runs off a new batch.
Why should the vending industry not take advantage of this? Since the last round of industry debates on currency, a whole new tier of products has entered the market: energy drinks and better-for-you organic snacks, for instance. The popular ones sell for well over $1, and standing in line in a convenience store or a supermarket will convince any skeptic that consumers like them. While they have found a profitable role in vending, they often are regarded as niche categories, doubtless attractive in locations like health clubs but somewhat out of the workplace mainstream.
We suspect that this is another example of a tendency to define what can be done in terms of what has been done already. If operators believe that their patrons won’t spend more than $1 for anything from a vending machine, then their patrons never will get the chance to prove them wrong – or even right.
For more than two decades, operators who have met location requests for cashless payment systems have reported that these almost always produce a lift in sales, since they allow customers to buy things from vending machines without needing to inventory the coins and small bills on their persons. The recognition that our competition for bus fare, highway and bridge tolls, and the price of a newspaper is discouraging vended sales has made many operators receptive to the idea of credit and debit card acceptance. We will confess to harboring the perhaps unworthy suspicion that this receptiveness is in part fueled by the comforting belief that the changeover to “open” cashless payments will not happen tomorrow, or even next week. Meanwhile, everyone can conduct business as usual, and patrons can buy their preferred $1.75 and $2.25 single-serve refreshments at the convenience store.
Meanwhile, there is that $2 bill. Today’s payment systems not only can accept it, but can pay it back in change. If this denomination were in widespread use, the whole arithmetic of $5 acceptance would change for the better.
One of the most appealing things about the $2 bill is that there is nothing to prevent its use. Banks can supply it; changers can pay it out; vending machines can accept it and dispense it in change. It probably can be spent “outside” with less explanation and banter than the $1 coin. If no one is doing this, we’d be glad to know why – and if anyone is, we’d love to hear about it.