You may have heard of a Best Buy store in New York testing out a robot dubbed “Chloe” to help customers with retail purchases. Chloe has access to 15,000 items that it can retrieve upon demand. Customers are thrilled with the convenience, the wow factor and best of all not having to interact with a salesman face to face. Chase bank has something similar where in place of a teller now sits a Johnny 5 look alike robot from the movie Short Circuit slapped with an oversized Ipad on its face. Amazon has robots named “Kiva” in their warehouses which look like they’re two steps away from manufacturing the T-800 Terminator at Cyberdyne systems. Target will roll out a concept store in 2017 featuring a “robotic component.”
What does this have to do with the vending business you ask?
Let’s think about how many jobs are being replaced with each robot. How many salesmen and customer service reps does Chloe eliminate? How many Warehouse employees does Kiva replace? The answer, at least a few and this is just the beginning. The fewer employees the less use there is for a vending machine in the employee break room…Chloe doesn’t exactly thirst for a Diet Coke and a Snickers bar. Fueling this investment into robotics is the increasingly chaotic environment of doing business. Minimum wage is increasing rapidly and just last week Governor Brown enacted the toughest Equal Pay Law in the country. Equal pay is certainly fair, but without proper guidelines all this means is more chaos for the business hiring the employee. Employers can see the writing on the wall and the race to replace labor is on. David Marcotte of consulting firm Kantar Retail goes on to say, “Everybody is beginning to talk about robotics as a way to remove labor from the system,” he said. “I’m hearing this from a lot of retailers … they have changes in their labor costs to deal with and that’s just a reality.”
The counter argument is automation will take away some jobs and bring about the need for others requiring a different skill set to support this new way of doing business. After all when computers came along they replaced a room full of secretaries and the economy did better than ever. All true, but today we live in a different world. Many of the jobs created are part time and businesses have no choice but to eliminate employees as mentioned above. Not to mention the fact that more and more jobs are going oversees or south of the border. Companies are packing up lock stock and barrel and simply leaving California such as in the case of Toyota taking 3000 jobs with it. Many of the jobs needed to support all this automation will most likely be done remotely from the other side of the planet.
All this means is fewer bodies in the office and warehouse. Folks working more part time or independent contractors in and out of the building. Cutting the workforce at a company even by 10% will have an effect on the vending product demand especially when that 10% are the laborers who get hungry and thirsty the most. Expect to see many changes in the vending industry as automation becomes more common place and the need for a vending service diminishes.