Last month, I talked about some of the current industry trends and how we might take fuller advantage of the tools available to us and do a better job exchanging ideas with one another. It has been a bumpy ride for many of us, but if you look closely at the technologies that are converging to revolutionize vending, it really is a great time to be in this industry. This was evident by the turnout and positive energy at the fall trade shows.
Vending Times has been reporting on some of these trends for the past two decades, and it has been fascinating to watch them develop and converge over time. In the spirit of the New Year and the new beginnings that it symbolizes I thought it useful to list some of these advances all in one place. If you've been following our editorials and reading the articles in Vending Times, then consider this a "year in review" of the top technology trends of 2012. We think they bear repeating -- and pursuing.
1. PAYMENT SYSTEMS. New payment systems, including mobile options, let patrons make purchases with whatever is in their pockets. Credit and debit cards, and bill "recyclers" that allow patrons to pay with larger-denomination banknotes and receive banknotes in change, also make it practical to offer multiple-purchase options at promotional prices. And the functionality to change prices remotely exists right now.
2. SOCIAL MEDIA. Consumers -- especially young adults -- crave opportunities to express themselves, and they find interactive experiences entertaining and engaging. Social media allow sellers to communicate directly with buyers, and to receive feedback from them. A customer can make a purchase with a credit card or smartphone and then participate in sharing experiences online.
3. TOUCHSCREENS. Networked machines and cost-effective consumer-responsive displays enhance interactivity and make practical a variety of useful programs such as consumer surveys, contests and other personalized opportunities for engagement. In vending, touchscreens enable customers to interact with product "virtually" by manipulating 3D images to bring up and read ingredient and nutritional labels. Revenue also can be earned from advertising on the venders' video displays.
4. REMOTE MONITORING. Telemetry enables urgent information like mechanical malfunctions and out-of stock alerts to be transmitted instantly to the business office and/or field service personnel. Telemetry solutions can also deliver detailed data on the business performance of individual units, including daily (or more frequent) sales reports and other transaction updates. These metrics can give operators a much clearer picture of the daily -- even hourly -- financial performance of their assets, and help provide the foundation for a smooth and efficient operation.
5. MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE. Today's management information systems can provide timely and accurate line-item information on each stock-keeping unit sold through a vending machine, and allow for prepacking ("prekitting") route orders in the warehouse by predicting the depletion rate for each SKU in each machine. The software also can work seamlessly with telemetry systems sending sales and audit information from machines in the field, offering even greater forecasting accuracy. This makes drivers much more productive, allows for the use of smaller vehicles and tightens inventory control.
6. WAREHOUSE AUTOMATION. This is the second essential component in using detailed, timely information to improve route productivity. Warehouse automation systems speed and simplify the task of picking merchandise to make up those pre-kitted route orders.
7. MICROMARKETS. The micromarket might be thought of as a miniature convenience store, but it also is a combo vending machine with much wider tolerance for odd package sizes and shapes, and it offers patrons the ability to interact with those packages in three-dimensional space. Operators running micromarkets typically merchandise a larger number of SKUs through them. A micromarket offers all the advantages of a conventional vending machine in securing trial of new products at low cost to the marketer, with even greater ease than a conventional vending machine.
8. THE "MOBILE" PUBLIC. An on-the-go population increasingly pressed for time has been demanding greater convenience for more than half a century, and vending has met that demand. Now that public is carrying smart communication devices that create extraordinary new opportunities for this industry.
There you have it; the top trends that are all part of a continuing development that have allowed us to better compete with other convenience and entertainment channels. Now it's up to us. We look forward to an exciting new year. Best wishes to all!