How COVID-19 is Shaping The Vending Industry

As businesses continue to pivot their business operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will undoubtedly be new opportunities emerging for vending operators. Operators will need to look to new products and services to find new sales channels, but many will be surprised at where and how they intersect with existing services they provide. There are several factors that could drive the new market potential, including safety, efficiency, and unique product needs.

Safety

Vending machines provide the most proven method of contactless delivery of products currently available. For decades, vending machines have made it possible for consumers to purchase a wide array of products without direct human contact. As more businesses seek ways to limit interaction in the delivery of products, vending machines should be one of their first avenues of consideration. When properly operated and maintained, vending machines can be one of the safest and most convenient methods for distributing products available. The more advanced technology available for credit card payment systems further limits the frequent touchpoints on a machine. By developing and documenting a process to emphasize sanitary procedures for loading products and disinfecting machines consistently, operators can provide peace of mind for retailers and businesses seeking to make their customers and employees feel safe in their environments. Operators willing to consider new ways to sanitize and clean machines and products will have an advantage in opening new markets.

Efficiency

As businesses work to rebuild after the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will need to trim expenses and operate with minimal crews. The ability to distribute products and inventory required by employees without using valuable personnel will make the use of vending machines more popular than ever. Operators should analyze locations where they already have existing machines to determine if additional opportunities for vending could arise as a result of new practices being implemented to increase the efficiency of current operations. Modifying machines to manage inventory control or free vend products typically handled by employees are just two examples of possible new uses for machines with already existing customers. Retrofitting machines to vend items not traditionally considered popular or obvious choices could also help businesses see the possibility of broadening their use of machines in their facilities.

New Product Needs

This situation will permanently alter how we view and interact with the world around us. While personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves are not required in all areas, they are still products that many people are voluntarily using and need a ready supply of them to be easily accessible. Also, disinfectant spray and wipes and hand sanitizer are products people will be using in higher quantities for the foreseeable future. Hospitals will require larger amounts of personal protective equipment and a way to manage inventory to track usage and guarantee availability in all areas of the buildings. Vending machines with inventory control systems can be fitted to vend just about any product needed.

In addition to personal equipment, people will want to feel control of their interactions with people, and many may be seeking ways to permanently change the way they obtain consumable products. While manufacturers make machines for a variety of uses, after-market customization can expand the use of most machines. Operators are only limited by their ideas and vision for what they can sell from a vending machine. Machines can be used to sell everything from health and beauty to technology products. However, other uses for machines can include the distribution of products that would typically require human interaction, such as pickup for photos electronically submitted for one-hour printing. Shipping materials, small tools, books, and office supplies are other examples of items that can be issued to users through vending machines. Using what we have learned through the restrictions imposed to manage the spread of the Coronavirus, we can gain a new perspective and open new markets for the use of vending machines.

Developing safe practices for stocking and operating vending machines as well as cross-purposing them in already existing customers and developing new products to be sold and distributed can expand operators’ revenue streams without significantly increasing their workload. Diversified revenue streams are vital to building an operation that is the most protected from recession and changes in the marketplace. While many machines are already available directly from the manufacturers to cover these new uses, after-market customization can expand the scope and reach of existing machines.

There are many forms of market research to help operators find ways to expand their business. However, some of the most obvious is often overlooked. Taking time for a conversation with existing customers about their needs that have not yet been met can be the best place to find a starting point for expansion opportunities. Taking time to observe the activity in the buildings where machines are already vending can help identify the potential for new products that would sell well. Understanding the equipment being operated and the ability to adjust to broaden the services it can provide is another fundamental change that can generate immediate results.

This pandemic is a historic event that will disrupt the way day-to-day business is conducted. Those that can modify operations and offer solutions to provide services customers want will be the ones to not only survive this turn but also thrive. The future of the vending industry is limitless moving forward, and operators need only to look around them to find an opportunity for growth and diversification.