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21st November 2015 | By:

Vendex North 2015 – Trends, observations (and snacks!)

I’ve been attending Vendex (and most often AVEX) in some shape or form for over 6 years, often as a visitor, and at times as an exhibitor. Whilst vending is typically a painfully slow-moving industry from a technological side (most probably due to how cost-sensitive vending businesses tend to be in order to survive), there have been some notable trends emerging over the years.

Aeguana exhibited at Vendex Manchester this year, bringing to life a ‘Happiness Vending Machine’. The concept was simple – give us your biggest smile at our vending machine (filled with delicious Propercorn, courtesy of Propercorn of course!) and watch as the machine instantly drops a free product. We used state of the art emotion detection technology, that in this instance was triggered by happiness (obviously). To spice things up, a set of 10 ultra bright lights would indicate just how happy the person was, and dispense the product accordingly. A true emotion vending machine!

In addition to all the visitors we spoke to, we also made an effort to try and understand the other businesses exhibiting. Were they new to the scene, or have they been around for a while and launching a new product (or at times simply making their continued existence known)? It leads to some fascinating insight that can’t easily be gained any other way.

This year, I decided to discuss three observations from Vendex, not only from a technological standpoint but also from the perspective of an outsider to the confectionary and drinks operator businesses. This is what I noticed:

1. Telemetry is increasingly sought after, though still very far from prevalent

We’ve been talking about telemetry in some shape or form for the past 6 years at Aeguana. From our early discussions with operators through to more recent deployments of truly integrated telemetry solutions for vending, it’s safe to say we’ve seen it all. What’s interesting is that whilst historically operators tended to shy away from telemetry (for a multitude of reasons, most of which culminated in cost), they now seem to be far more open and embracing of the technology – and in fact, seem to be proactively seeking to implement it.

However, what is interesting to observe is that the frustrations that operators face when integrating telemetry remain virtually unchanged in the past few years. Hardware costs are still relatively high and need to be absorbed as capital expenditure, often only enabling the larger outfits to adopt them. Perhaps even more worryingly, recurring costs are also still very high, with some telemetry providers requiring that the operators provision their own data plans, and others charging a premium for doing so themselves.

Cost aside, there is then still a sliver of frustration around the lack of seamless integration between machine, telemetry, online platform and payment technology. Nayax is clearly a leader in this space, offering a one-size-fits-all solution that simply works out of the box, providing plug-and-play telemetry and payments, and handling all the data and payment fees complexity. However, the transaction costs relative to other forms of payment (eg: online payment gateways and traditional merchant fees) still remain high, though very competitive within the vending space.

2. There is still limited technology being adopted in vending

Whilst there is no doubt that vending has come along way, there are just so many opportunities to innovate and create a better and more valuable customer experience that are not being explored. Telemetry (as discussed above) is definitely one of them, but this goes a lot further. Whilst there are a few companies beginning to release mainstream machines with touch screen technology, this is usually limited to product selection. However, with a touch interface at their disposal, this presents a fantastic opportunity to enrich the customer experience, making it more of a 2 way conversation.

Why not add social media triggers alongside traditional payment technology? “Launching a new brand? Place it in our machine, and get customers tweeting about it – we’ll drop it out for free”. Or even better – local sampling opportunities where users fill in short surveys about their demographic etc. to receive a sample. With brands paying substantial sums for promotional staff to hand out free samples, it seems like a no brainer to use existing vending networks to achieve this.

Taking it even further – with advances in face recognition and emotion detection, why not enrich the retail experience using this technology? It’s been done before in Japan and for one-off events, but even though the actual technology cost is minimal, it hasn’t yet made it’s way to mainstream vending.

Perhaps one of the reasons holding back technology adoption really is limited connectivity… solve that in a flexible, and scalable way, and it paves the way for infinite possibilities.

3. Healthy snacks are taking over the world

Thinking back to some of the earlier vending shows, they were filled with mainstream snacks that were – in the vast majority of cases – unhealthy. However, walking around Vendex this year, it’s fascinating to see how so many small, entrepreneurial companies have taken it upon themselves to change this and create healthy options for everyday people to eat as snacks, throughout the day. Most of these are not positioned specifically for the vending market, and are instead exploring this as part of a wider retail strategy (which is likely to be the logical approach), but it is nevertheless fascinating to see so many healthy options in one room.

Some of these are strikingly simple concepts that you see and think ‘how did no one think of this before? Of course that makes sense!’. Others however, are decidedly more complex snacks. One company that struck us (in every way) as truly delicious, is ‘Nothing But’ – see their website here http://nothingbutsnack.com/. They were conveniently located next to us, and distracted us with descriptions of dried yogurt melting in your mouth, amongst other incredible snacks.

Other companies were tackling the drinks market by providing healthy (and at times useful) options. One example being ‘Overhang’ – see their website here: http://overhangdrinks.com/. Using an age old Italian family recipe, they believe they have found the solution to hangovers once and for all, and it tastes pretty good too.

We love seeing cool, young companies tackle the snack market, and even better doing so through vending. It opens up a world of opportunity to change buying habits, and also enables us to come up with some great viral concepts to achieve widespread brand recognition.

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