Kiosk Control

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By redesigning the units with more attractive hardware, the bookstore chain’s kiosk units are luring more shoppers and increasing conversion rates.

Indigo Books & Music, a company that reported $875 million in sales in 2007, launched its kiosk program as a way to help shoppers search and find titles within the store or at nearby locations. Yet, the units still weren’t attracting the traffic Indigo expected.

“One of the key problems with our kiosk environment was that it looked like a staff workstation,” Sumit Oberai, Indigo Music & Books’ VP of customer solutions, said during the KioskCom Self Service Expo, held Oct. 23-24, at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.

“It’s essentially a computer sitting on a desk, often with piles of books on the side or a leftover coffee cup,” he said during the session, “Defining Success Criteria of Interactive Self-Service and Digital Media Projects—Pilot, Deployment & Post-Deployment Stages.”

“They may not understand that the unit is there to help them,” he added. “While the interface may be good, it wasn’t drawing in our shoppers.”

As a result, Indigo Books & Music decided to test a simple theory. Before rolling out a new kiosk strategy, Indigo launched a six-month pilot between the summer of 2006 and the holiday season. Thirty stand-alone units, powered by Mississauga, Ontario-based KING Products & Solutions, Inc., were positioned in six stores. One unit was placed at the front of the store, while others were scattered throughout the different departments.

“One of the primary goals of the pilot was to test our hypothesis: Making the hardware more attractive—without even touching the user interface—would [significantly] increase customer use of our kiosk stations,” Oberai said. “We wanted to make it clear to the customer that these units were there for them to use.”

In addition to getting corporate’s approval on the unit’s design, Indigo also wanted to ensure that its retail staff accepted the units. “Without the approval of our field staff, technology like this will essentially fail,” Oberai said. “We need them on board.”

However, after the pilot launched, the retailer faced several new challenges that revolved around the new technology’s implementation.

“Since we focused on hardware deployment and didn’t change the interface, there was limited integration of peripherals,” he explained.

Each unit had a printer, a loyalty-card reader and a barcode scanner, but most of these peripherals were not integrated in the user interface.

“We also found that the keyboard was an obstacle,” he said. “Since it was a very industrial keyboard, our merchandising team and CEO felt that it didn’t reflect our brand.”

Despite these kinks, Oberai was ultimately pleased with the results the units received on the sales floor.

“We saw a significant increase in customer usage and our hypothesis was validated: A more appealing design would truly up the usage. We feel as though this is a proven business case.”

Once the pilot was over, the units were removed from stores. However, the chain’s staff members were so impressed with the new design that they asked the company to bring the hardware back.

Despite this positive feedback, Indigo still needed insight into the units’ overall usage. First, the company wanted to know how many times pages on the kiosk were viewed. Secondly, it wanted to know if the tool was driving higher in-store conversions, and finally, it wanted to see whether customers were using its self-service order capabilities.

To reach these decisions, pilot stores were measured against controlled stores (these featured the original units) in similar markets. Based on year-over-year comparisons, the new units’ results were strong. For example, in the controlled stores, kiosk usage increased only 4%. In pilot stores, however, there was a 31% jump—this was seven times higher than the usage rate in the controlled locations.

Oberai said that the company was most surprised that self-service orders through the units were merely a fraction of the kiosk-outfitted stores’ total orders.

“Initially, we thought that self-service orders would be the driving force of our business case,” he explained. “This is because we are in an industry where there are 3 million books in print, but since we only hold about 80,000 to 100,000 in our stores, there are still a lot of books not on our shelves.”

Overall, however, metrics prove that the in-store conversion rate is actually the primary driver to pin its new kiosk program on.

To foster this new rollout, Indigo is currently working on a complete redesign of the hardware and software with the help of a third-party designer and a user-interface firm, which specializes in interaction design. (Oberai declined to name the company.) Indigo plans to incorporate many of the hardware components into the new pilot.

“While the test units were very different than before—and we achieved our goals to make it look much less like a staff workstation—we are looking for a customized design that also fits strongly with our brand and in our environment,” he said. “Right now, our interface is essentially our Web site, and we want to completely move away from that.”

Instead, Oberai wants the interface to look different from both a technology and organizational perspective. “We want to separate the two so the kiosk can be viewed as a resource tool, not just a Web site running in the store,” he added.

Indigo also plans to integrate the units with some other systems, such as POS for ordering and inventory management.

Oberai said that the company learned a lot from the pilot, and is moving ahead at full force. And based on some sound advice from the company’s user-interface firm, Indigo is well on its way to creating a more user-friendly system.

“They told us, ‘Make it easy for customers to find out if a book is in stock,” he explained. “If it’s in stock, simply tell them where to find it. If it’s not, tell them about nearby stores and enable them to order through the kiosk. Nothing else really matters.’”

Oberai said the words of wisdom came at a perfect time, as the retailer was heading down a road that incorporated many other applications that was causing it to veer away from its goal. But Indigo has since steered back around, narrowing its focus.

“We were looking at a lot of bells and whistles,” Oberai said. “For example, we talked about adding a [kiosk] loyalty-card service that allows shoppers to swipe a card for personalized offers.”

“But at the end of the day, we have to keep in mind that this is a tool about search, find and order,” he added. “And we’ve decided that it’s important to keep it that way.”

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