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The Return to Vending Machines

A Full 360: Why Micro Market Operators are Reverting Back to Vending


In recent years, the retail landscape has witnessed a significant shift in the preferences of operators within the food and beverage sector. Micro markets, once hailed as the future of on-the-go retail, are now facing challenges that have led many operators to reconsider their strategies. The initial rise of micro markets, offering a diverse range of products, price flexibility, and an engaging customer experience, found success in locations like rest stops, airports, and corporate offices. However, the industry is now witnessing a notable return to vending machines, driven by issues such as shrinkage, operational costs, and employment challenges.

The Rise of Micro Markets

For the better part of this decade, micro markets have been gaining steam as an alternative to vending machines as they offered a wider variety of food/beverage items, a more enticing customer experience and a reduced need for machine maintenance. Located in high-traffic areas like rest stops, airports and more recently corporate offices, they were seen as the latest hot commodity in retail, fostering a more engaging and personalized shopping experience for consumers. 

But many operators soon found out that there were several hidden costs associated with running a profitable micro market. 

Uncovering Micro Market’s Hidden Costs

Despite their initial success, micro market operators are now grappling with several challenges that are impacting their sustainability in the long run. The primary concern is shrinkage, with a reported rate of 10% compared to the typical 3-5% seen in a good retail market. 

The inherent issue with micro markets is that they’re predicated on a system of “the honor rule”, where customers can simply walk out with an item and rarely pay any consequences. Theft and unauthorized access to products have become significant contributors to financial losses, and preventative measures like security systems only contribute to the cost for operators. In some cases, frequently stolen goods such as energy drinks are no longer stocked by the seller because the incurred shrinkage cost outweighs the revenue of purchased goods. 

Additionally, micro markets require a team of employees to oversee inventory and checkout. The cost of employment, including wages and benefits for on-site staff contributes to the already significant overhead. 

The Return to Vending Machines

In response to the challenges faced by micro markets, operators are revisiting the concept of vending machines. Vending machines offer a more secure and automated retail solution, addressing some of the key issues that micro markets are grappling with. 

For instance, vending machines, being enclosed and automated, significantly reduce the risk of theft and unauthorized access. With a controlled access point, the shrinkage rate is considerably lower compared to the open-shelf format of micro markets.

Another significant advantage of vending machines is the elimination or substantial reduction of on-site staff. This not only lowers labor costs but also minimizes the challenges associated with employee management, such as training and scheduling. On top of that, vending machines operate with a more straightforward inventory management system. Restocking and tracking inventory levels become less time-consuming and resource-intensive compared to managing the diverse product range of micro markets.

Best-In-Class Vending Options

While micro markets have their advantages, the costs tend to outweigh the benefits. The practical difficulties in terms of shrinkage, operational costs, and employment have prompted a reevaluation of strategies. As the industry evolves, vending machines emerge once again as a reliable and efficient alternative, offering a secure, cost-effective, and streamlined solution for both operators and consumers alike.

For cutting-edge vending solutions that customers love, Crane Payment Innovations is a one-stop shop. From payment systems to machines to software, CPI provides end-to-end vending solutions that aim to optimize efficiency and drive revenue for operators. CPI machines not only provide a range of snack, beverage and combo items, but include a digital touchscreen to engage customers and drive revenue through advertisement. 

To learn more about CPI vending solutions, click here.