Canadian Vending

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Dispensing Strategies: Self-Serve Retail Reps Wanted

Self-Serve Retail Reps Wanted

February 29, 2008
By Michelle Brisebois


Have you noticed that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good customer service?

Have you noticed that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good customer service?

It’s not necessarily that the calibre of today’s retail workers is weak – it’s simply that there aren’t enough of them. Want ads are popping up everywhere and most grocery stores, restaurants and coffee houses are actively recruiting for front line staff. Customers wait in line longer to receive service from overworked, overwrought retail staff who may be new Canadians still struggling to learn either or both of our national languages.

It’s not going to get any better. In fact, the jobless rate fell to 5.8 per cent in October, a 33-year low, with the creation of 63,000 new jobs – five times the consensus forecast of economists. This means that minimum wage jobs are harder to fill and those jobs reside mostly in the retail sector. This stands to be a fabulous opportunity for vending – our machines have always gone where flesh and blood employees fear to tread.
We are on the cusp of incredible and sustainable opportunity for self-serve channels. The market needs a way to provide expedient, interactive service to its customers and fortunately, our industry is finally in a position to provide all the pieces. Vending has traditionally targeted consumers who already knew what they wanted and as long as the brands were displayed clearly and were well stocked, all that was needed was a means to collect the money and dispense the product.


If consumers required any level of service to complete the transaction – well, a vending machine probably wasn’t the best channel.

Vending machines have also traditionally been a way for retailers to increase their sales per square foot. “That patch of space over there isn’t doing anything – let’s put in a vending machine and see what happens.”
Employees were plentiful and the machines couldn’t add value in terms of answering questions about the product or assisting the consumer in making a purchase decision. Well, given the strain on today’s retail staff, the machine may actually be more helpful.

Many retailers are looking for ways to replace traditional posters and banners in their stores and they’re starting to turn to digital media. Digital technology allows consumers to interact with touch screens that will help the customer research the products they’re interested in. Shoppers simply search for product information much like they would on a website – an activity most are very familiar with.  Marketers love digital media because a campaign can be changed at a moment’s notice to reflect a special price or promotional focus.

This interactive piece was the missing link to take vending from an afterthought to a front line retail strategy. Grocery stores have adopted self-serve checkout kiosks to augment front line cashiers. Consumers swipe the bar codes on grocery items and use the touch screen to facilitate payment or product searches. One cashier usually monitors several self-serve check-outs and is there to provide support and a watchful eye for theft.

While some shoppers may still prefer the traditional check-out, many have jumped on the self-serve bandwagon and it’s common to see these kiosks in constant use. The strategy is also being embraced by food service.

Quick-service chains and their franchisees in the U.S. are experimenting with self-service menu kiosks as they increase sales while controlling labour costs.

Most models employ a touch screen on which customers make their selections from the menu. They pay for the order with cash or credit cards and the order goes to the kitchen where it is filled and brought to the table.

Restaurant owners are pleased to have this front line support without any of the usual headaches such as medical plans, coaching and scheduling vacations. They’ve also discovered that the up-selling potential for kiosks has been better than expected. It’s putting information in front of people so they can make their own decisions.

A customer may hate asking how much more a menu item will be because they’re afraid of sounding cheap.
Look at where your existing machines may fill an emerging retail need. Approaching a cafeteria operator with the suggestion that he or she place a vending machine right beside the hot food may seem pointless – or is it? What if that vending machine could dispense items like sandwiches, drinks or desserts?  The front line staff may be best deployed portioning out the hot foods that need plating.

Consider investing in machines that have a digital component. Restaurants in the U.S. testing these machines have found that the screens can promote menu items during off hours.

It’s time for vending to look at itself in a whole new light or perhaps in an old light with new perspective. Vending has always been a means of servicing consumers when front line staff aren’t available. The difference today is that our machines will work alongside retail staff rather than replacing them.

On your next sales call, don’t show your client the specs on your new vending machine. Instead, introduce them to the employee that doesn’t go to the Christmas party.

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