As doing more with less becomes the new standard, retailers continue to look for ways to maintain customer-service levels while keeping costs down. Increasingly, both small and large companies are turning to self-service kiosks as a way to manage scarce resources, increase customer services, reduce operational costs and offer a better customer retail experience, according to Ron Bowers, senior VP business development for Chicago-based Frank Mayer & Associates, an in-store merchandising and kiosk solutions provider.
Associate editor/Web editor Samantha Murphy caught up with Bowers at the KioskCOM conference in New York City in November to discuss the latest trends in the self-service industry and how the sector is expected to grow even more in the next few years.
How has the recession affected the kiosk marketplace?
The economy has forced a shift from its original stance as a tech-driven, business-support industry to a purveyor of retail customer experience and a consumer marketing solution provider. The industry is no longer only talking to IT departments. We are now working very closely with brand marketers and retail operations workers to integrate the kiosk experience into the very fabric of the store identity.
Kiosk adoption was initially slow moving in the United States. What a re some of the main challenges retailers are facing during implementation?
One of the biggest challenges is the misconception that it’s all about the technology. Technology is a tool used with other business tools to support and execute a logical and exciting business strategy. If the business premise is built solely on an interactive technology idea that does not support and show continuity with the branding, marketing and customer experience of the product mix, it will be doomed to failure. Self- service kiosks should support the retail strategy, not supersede it.
What demographic or store experience is the best fit for kiosks?
Kosks are successful across a wide spectrum of demographics and store experiences, but are best suited for environments that may have consumers wanting access to more product information, product benefits and lifestyle use. Vitamin retailers, for example, have seen great success with informational kiosks that help shoppers make informed purchasing decisions. Kiosks are also great for environments when associates might not be readily available to offer assistance or if associate knowledge is not always consistent.
As for demographics, kiosks are appealing to shoppers of all ages. It’s not surprising, however, that young consumers are becoming more accustomed to seeing self-service units in stores and now prefer to use them if given the opportunity. In fact, about 71% of consumers aged 18 to 24 prefer to use kiosks in retail locations, while 64% of those aged 25 to 35 prefer the same.
Why do some kiosks perform better than others?
The two most recognized and successful kiosk solutions out there are the airport check-in units and the digital photography kiosks in retail locations. Both solutions satisfy a consumer’s need in an intuitive, convenient and user-friendly application that the consumer tries once, understands and comes back again for more. With that in mind, retailers interested in adding a kiosk need to make sure it goes along well with the company’s overall business plan and determine how an implementation will impact the retail brand. Finally, retailers should choose partners that have experience and are recognized for their longevity in the industry.
Where is the industry headed in the next year? Five years?
Most retailers in the United States, Europe and Asia are already considering some level of self-service kiosk or digital signage self-service to complement their retail business plan. Self- service interactive, which combines kiosks and interactive digital signage, is a major trend that’s having substantial impact on retail because of its impact on customer service. Analysts reported that $3 billion was spent on self-service solutions in 2008, and I expect this number to grow even more and expand dramatically across all retail channels as the need for customer service and customer experience continues to grow.
The next five years will be a watershed time for the designing and implementation of innovation in the retail environment as tech tools become more consumer-intuitive and integrated into store design.