Make Vending Machines Work for You
During my journey from boy to manhood, one machine stood silent witness and occasional participant. The vending machine sold chocolate on train stations and underground platforms. It dispensed music, cigarettes and condoms in pubs and clubs. It even provided tea and sympathy in hospital waiting rooms. The vending machine performed its primary task brilliantly, selling the right product to the right person at the right moment. It also linked certain brands, such as Cadbury, Camel, The Jam, Durex and Coca-Cola with seminal moments in mine, and many other lives.
Agatha Christie and the Penguincubator
The vending machine has been around for longer than you might think. Over the centuries, they have evolved and adapted. According to Wikipedia, the earliest known reference to a vending machine is in the work of Hero of Alexandria, an engineer and mathematician in first-century Roman Egypt. His machine accepted a coin and then dispensed holy water. The first modern vending machine was developed in England in the 1880s and dispensed postcards. After visiting author Agatha Christie in Devon, Sir Allen Lane, the creator of Penguin Books, could find nothing to read while waiting for his train back to London. This unsatisfactory experience gave Lane an idea. In 1937, he created the Penguincubator, a vending machine for his paperback books. The Penguincubator sidestepped traditional book distribution channels, reduced prices, and made literature more accessible to ordinary people. The idea of the book vending machine is still alive and well. In 2016, BooksActually, an independent bookshop in Singapore, placed a number of book vending machines in public areas with high footfall.
The Amazing Car Vending Machine
Today, the Carvana car vending machine brings together technology, robotics and architectural design to create a truly unique customer experience. The vending machine dispenses cars originally purchased online. The vending machine is an amazing glass and steel tower, completely designed around the customer experience. I particularly liked the fact, the vending machine remains coin operated but with a twist. Carvana also developed proprietary technology that captures the customer's visit to the car vending machine in a dynamic video that is sharable across any social media platform. The whole idea was to move as far away from the typical car dealership experience as possible.
Forget the Customer
A few years ago, experiential marketing rediscovered the vending machine. However, it quickly became the vehicle for numerous creative agencies to demonstrate their cleverness and conceit rather than serve the customer. Basic marketing principles were sacrificed on the altar of novelty, and all on the client’s dime. Of course, the problem with gimmicks is they quickly become passé. Consumers get bored and move on. Nothing permanent is achieved. This rather sorry period in the vending machine story is beautifully satirised in a video by Canadian creative agency TAXI.
Saving the Planet
Today, in a world literally choked by single-use plastics, the reverse vending machine is doing its bit to change things. In my childhood, it was possible to supplement your pocket money by collecting empty “pop” bottles, which you could return to the local off-license (liquor store) to claim the deposit. The reverse vending machine works in exactly the same way. Consumers can dispense with their old tin cans, plastic and glass for recycling, and claim cashback or a discount token. Although reverse vending machines have been around for over 30 years, they have been slow to take-off in the UK.
Trial of the Reverse Vending Machines
During the summer, supermarket chain Morrisons started to trial reverse vending machines at two sites in England and Scotland. The trial will last for six months with the aim of understanding consumers’ responses to the new technology. The machines accept any plastic bottle for recycling with a barcode on them and all Morrisons own-branded bottles. Shoppers can return up to 20 bottles a day and receive 100 Morrisons More reward points as a redeemable coupon they can use in-store. Alternatively, shoppers can choose to donate the cash equivalent to the supermarket’s partner charity. Morrisons is just one of many UK retailers now trialling or introducing reverse vending machines to tackle environmental waste issues such as single-use plastics.
Basic Marketing Principles
The modern vending machine is a sophisticated, network-connected piece of kit. Touchscreens, voice control, electronic payments and artificial intelligence (AI), provide speed and convenience for the consumer and data for the vendors. However, the success and longevity of the vending machine has less to do with technical innovation and more to do with those basic marketing principles we mentioned earlier. Having done your research and established who you want to target, the vending machine can place the right product in front of the right customer at the right moment for the right price.
Uniquely Placed to Shape Preferences
For years, the vending machine relied on nothing more complex than backlit display panels to announce its presence. Nowadays, vending machines have access to the Internet, geolocation, Bluetooth connectivity, near field communications (NFC), mobile apps and social media. They have the means to promote themselves directly to the consumer. At the same time, vendors can derive a great deal of valuable information about consumer preferences, habits and behaviours. The vending machine has come a long way. When used for a clear, specific marketing purpose it continues to be very effective. They also possess that almost unique quality of being able to shape brand preferences by being present at salient points in many consumers’ lives.
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