Canadian Vending

Features Consumer Behaviour Trends
Dispensing Strategies: Going Sideways

Going Sideways


April 29, 2008
By Michelle Brisebois

Topics

When was the last time you lied – to yourself?  Was it when you told
your boss you could have that project completed in two weeks and it
actually took three (or more)?  When you promised yourself, “No more
chocolate. I’m going to get that last 10 pounds off?”  Did you vow to
spend less, relax more?  Ah, the best intentions pave the road to …

When was the last time you lied – to yourself?  Was it when you told your boss you could have that project completed in two weeks and it actually took three (or more)?  When you promised yourself, “No more chocolate. I’m going to get that last 10 pounds off?”  Did you vow to spend less, relax more?  Ah, the best intentions pave the road to …

We all do it. We all say one thing and often do another. It’s OK.

It’s human nature to put a positive spin on our behaviour. Those of us relying on consumer research and feedback need to factor this “Pollyanna effect” into our decisions. We really need to understand why consumers say one thing but do the complete opposite?

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The vending industry has made big changes in its product offering and focus based upon intense consumer feedback. Consumers eager to lay the blame for their health struggles at the feet of industry have demanded healthier options to help them deal with their obesity issues. 

In some cases vending machines have been removed all together or product offerings have been adjusted to include wholesome, healthier SKUs. This phenomenon affects the gaming industry too.  Parents routinely protest the availability of violent video games and the parental guidance rating system has been established to help police who plays what game. With all of these checks in place to help consumers make better choices, you would think we’d be a society of thin healthy beings playing bridge instead of “biker video games.” Not even close. 

Obesity continues to be the most serious of societal health issues for all age groups. Manufacturers of child car seats have had to make larger models to accommodate the “five per cent of U.S. three-year-olds that are too big for standard car seats.”  Research also indicates that 90 per cent of teenagers said that their parents never check the video game ratings before allowing them to rent or buy computer or video games. (Walsh, et al.). In the end, we seem to view ourselves through rose-coloured glasses – seeing only the good intent and ignoring the temptations that may lead us astray. Why do we do this? 

A joint study by Cornell, Stanford and Illinois Universities examined the process of “flawed self-assessment.” The findings confirm that we are a society full of bravado and good intentions, yet
lacking (or ignoring) other evidence that would suggest we won’t follow through on our intent. 

The research reported that, “people, on average, tend to believe themselves to be above average – a view that violates the simple tenets of mathematics.” The study found that in most every area of life from health risks, to job performance to the likelihood of losing 20 lbs., we believe we will beat the odds and rise to the top. 

Office workers were approached after eating a substantial lunch and asked what type of snack they would prefer to have delivered to them one week later at 4:00 pm. Their choices were between an apple and a chocolate bar. The majority predicted they would prefer an apple (even though they knew from experience that they would be hungry at 4:00 pm and maybe a bit stressed). When the delivery arrived, most of the respondents chose the chocolate bar. Researchers concluded that a tendency to take an “inside view” in predicting future behavior rather than an “outside view” was the primary cause for us to fail to live up to our own expectations.

In short, we assume that we have more control than we do, and we don’t take into account those external, uncontrollable factors that make us choose a different path. It may surprise us to realize that something as simple as a change in weather can cause us to throw resolve out the window.   

January 2006 proved to be the warmest January ever on record and consumers celebrated by heading to the malls. CBC news reported that sales rose for a fourth consecutive month in January 2006, advancing 1.4 per cent from December. Warm weather was cited as a factor in this result.

The strong economic growth over the last few years is attributed to increased consumer spending rather than investment by big business. Low interest rates have stimulated the housing market causing the values of our homes to increase dramatically. We psychologically feel wealthier because the value of our home has increased – so, we spend. Here’s the rub … that wealth is only on paper and can’t be liquidated unless we sell the house and don’t buy another one (or buy one much cheaper). It’s a robbing Peter to pay Paul sort of rationale.   
So, where does all of this leave us in terms of steering our businesses? If you’ve altered your product mix in response to consumer feedback demanding healthy/G-rated options – good for you. These products will fill a void and prove that the vending industry is willing to meet the consumer half way. Now the onus is back on the one who is actually pressing that button under the bag of chips rather than the one under the bottled water.

A recent paper by the European Vending Association (EVA) to the European Commission has finally brought this very issue to light in no uncertain terms. The paper from the EVA stated that it “regretted the ban of vending machines in France, with no consideration to vending as a flexible retail channel. A ban does not prevent children from bringing food to school or from buying the products elsewhere. Products have to be treated equally, and in a context that takes into account other factors such as a balanced diet and exercise.”   

In the end, vending will win by offering a variety of options and by striving to take a balanced approach. The first round has left us a bit bruised but stronger in the end. We’ve been honest with ourselves and have taken an “outside” approach to finding solutions. Now it’s up to consumers to figure out how to prevent their best intentions from going sideways.o


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