• Matt Harlos

Vending vs. Micro Markets: Which is better?

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How many times have you heard the argument of vending machines versus micro markets?

What’s the case for both? First comes the big question: Is vending still alive?

If I had to pick at starting a vending or markets operation today from scratch, I’d go 100% markets.

Evan Jarecki, Chief Customer Officer

Vending does still have its pros over markets. The biggest is cost of entry. Today, you can find a used vending machine and get it installed with minimal know-how. A market is an entirely different beast.

Markets come with the need to know how to merchandise your product, and are far more expensive to purchase and install. A markets installation will often require an entire crew of people, rather than the one or two needed to install a machine.

What are the pros of starting with markets?

It starts with the attractiveness of the breakroom.

Evan Jarecki, Chief Customer Officer

A nicely built micro market will always be more appealing than even the cleanest bank of vending machines. It’s more open, more welcoming, and offers a far better selection than traditional vending. And often, a new micro market comes with a revitalized breakroom.

Just look at Neil Swindale’s CoolBreakrooms.com. The nicest looking breakrooms have micro-markets, not traditional vending.

Consider the selling process as well. When one of your sales reps walks into a prospect’s location, will they have an easier time selling a bank of machines or a micro market? Does the addition of markets to your service option make you look like a more valuable partner?

To me, vending is alive. I don’t think vending will ever die.

Cecil Ledesma, VP Strategic Partnerships

Vending is still an avenue for both operators and consumers. Overall, vending is the ultimate in convenience. A machine can be placed virtually anywhere in an office building. You can slot multiple machines on each floor, or (if you really wanted to) right next to someone’s cubicle.

A market is welcoming, but a vending machine is fast, and far more likely to be a shorter distance from your desk.

So why has consumer preference moved away from vending? Why are micro markets seeing such success?

There’s something about experience vs convenience.

Evan Jarecki, Chief Customer Officer

In many ways, a micro market mimics the buying experience of a convenience or grocery store.

Let’s compare the experience to online shoping. It’s far more convenient to order something online, just a couple clicks and less than a minute if you know what you want. That same transaction can take an hour or more in a normal store. But, you know you get it immediately, and you get to hold and examine the item before you commit to purchasing it.

Despite the convenience, there’s still something special about shopping in-store. There’s an experience to it. A market has a similar appeal. Sure, you can get your snack in mere seconds from a vending machine, but that’s the entire experience.

What do consumers think?

The same Dr Pepper can be gotten at a market or a vending machine. So why should a consumer choose one over the other?

Consumers were shut out of a lot of the decisions that operators were making. It was all about forecasting and guessing what the consumers need, and less about presenting options to the consumer and letting them decide. A lot of this was due to the limiting factor of a vending machine’s size; only so many products can fit in a machine, versus far more products in a market.

The consumers are saying no, we aren’t 100% happy.

Do you trust what’s in a vending machine, when you can’t turn it around and read the nutritional info or check the expiration date?

In vending the idea is that when you need a drink you need a drink, and the cost of the product being higher in a machine than at the store is acceptable because it’s immediate.

Markets have that same effect, but with so many more options.

Is vending dead?

We’ll probably never see it die. But there are far more operators looking at markets as a replacement or expansion of what they’ve always done.

The ‘box’ for a micro market is the building in which it’s held, but the vending machine is its own box. A market is currently (typically) a private option, but a vending machine can safely exist in a public place. A machine inside of a secure building feels even more gated off, and a building provides the security and privacy for the market that a machine has in a public space.

A grocery, or convenience store is the same way. The building provides the security, and within you can see and touch and read the product as much as you want before making your purchase.

That buying experience is one that everyone is familiar with.

When the floppy disk drive was eliminated from computers, it was the end of the world. But it was because the next, better thing had come forward. Vending is getting pushed aside, and taking a back seat to markets. But does it diminish the value of vending?

If you want the exact same thing every day, then you’d probably be happy with a vending machine. But people crave choice, and the market offers that choice.

Do you go all-in on one and turn your back on the other?

Cecil Ledesma, VP Strategic Partnerships

At the end of the day, consumers drive the decision.

The entrance of a micro market has, traditionally, never been a negative thing towards a place that traditionally has vending. It introduces more variety, and far quantity of each product type.

For the operator the difference is often the cost of opening a market.

For the consumer, they may feel guaranteed that they’ll get the product they want. Cost may go up slightly with a market, but the convenience of payment options has helped to make the slight increases in cost far less of an issue for consumers.

I think operators will have to make a decision, on micro markets specifically.

Cecil Ledesma, VP Strategic Partnerships

Do you go all-in on markets, or simply make it your primary focus? Do you run some vending on the side? When operators go in with a market, why do seven or eight vending machines come out?

Why not have ultimate convenience with a machine on each floor and a large central market? Is that not the best of both worlds?

Why are you more okay as a consumer to go to the market on the first floor, versus just visiting the machine on your own floor?

I think there are so many fringe benefits to a market. I think they make a huge impact to the location that’s getting a market.

Evan Jarecki, Chief Customer Officer

For the operator, a major benefit can be that central location. It’s simpler to have a driver bring all their product to one place, with one area to stock, than it is to journey to multiple floors in the same building to visit every single machine.

And what about the social benefit?

A market offers community networking in a place for employees to sit, enjoy a meal or a snack, and just talk with fellow employees that they may not see if they simply make the short trip to their closest machines.

A vending machine is 100% convenience.

Evan Jarecki, Chief Customer Officer

Vending solves a problem, but that’s really all it does. It gives the consumer a snack fast. Markets can solve more than just the need for a quick snack. A trip to a vending machine is getting a snack and getting out. But a trip to a market is a break, with space to relax and enjoy your purchase. It’s a social space for employees to gather.

In many ways, a market’s true value lies in the experience. It’s a hub of activity, with options for a snack, or a meal. You can enjoy a quiet breakfast, or a quick lunch. The choice is up to the consumer, and that power to choose is a big reason they’ll come back the next day.

What are your thoughts on markets versus vending machines?

Which do you prefer to service as an operator? If you think about it as a consumer, which would you prefer to get a snack from?