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Retail kiosks - Part 2

In the second part of his new series, David Mackley continues to offer advice about retail kiosks and looks at the different ways they can be used

With the launch of so many self service checkouts in Britain's supermarkets, some commentators say this will lead to the wider adoption of in-store kiosks to deliver a range of value added services. Tier one retailers like Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons are investigating the return on investment across different services. So will this technology come into the independent SME sector? This second article looks at more of the different ways that kiosks can be used and whether they will be viable for independents.

Create and print a shopping list
One major DIY chain store is using kiosks to really add value. Customers can select a project, and the system will print off a 'how-to' instruction guide. It will then print off a list of materials that should be bought instore to complete the project, eliminating that sinking feeling you get when you arrive home and realise that you've forgotten the most essential item. This approach could also apply to crafts and cooking recipes.

Could a kiosk double up as an auto-checkout? Well, with the right software it could be used as a till to scan goods. With a built in chip and pin mechanism it could take payments, but it would not have scales to make sure customers are paying for all their goods, and as with all auto-checkout's a member of staff would need to be on stand-by.

Helping buying decisions
Kiosks are a great tool when it comes to providing shoppers with extra product information, this can be done by video demonstration for example. However, getting high quality content and keeping it up to date can be difficult, and there is also an issue around customers having to stand around watching a video. The success of this type of service over the years has been debatable.

Offering customers coupons or promoting sale items is an approach being used by Boots at the moment. Its Advantage Card Extra Offers kiosks are found in larger Boots stores and can be used by Advantage Card holders. These have been shown to affect behaviour in store where people pick up coupons before shopping.

Social Networking
Sangen has recently launched a niche app for opticians that can be used on a kiosk-like device. It enables customers to take pictures of their new specs and share them via e-mail or Facebook.

Enroll customers in loyalty programs
Rather than add customer details at the till, why not encourage them to do it themselves at a kiosk?

The challenges
There are several challenges retailers face before kiosks become more broadly adopted.

Put off in the past
If a customer has used a kiosk in the past they may have been disappointed. Older style kiosks under delivered and possibly put people off. Tackling this perception of unreliability is a huge challenge.

No standards
Unlike e-commerce, there are no defined standards for kiosks. E-commerce has formed its own standard in terms of menus, navigation and basket, as shown on the John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Next websites. If kiosks become more widespread, standards will develop, but whilst some good practice exists, it will take time to form standards.

No clear statement of use
When people see a kiosk in a store, what message does it give out? There is no inherent common value added message in a kiosk. This will only develop once retailers find a common set of uses and people become more familiar with them.

Is this viable technology for independents?
Thanks to the consumer success of smartphones and iPads, millions of people have learned to love the technology and user experience, and may come to expect higher levels of technology to be available in stores. When the issues highlighted above are overcome, then this technology will become more attractive to independents. Some forward thinking independents may well deploy their own initiatives, and the lower cost of kiosks is making this possible. Until then, most independents are likely to wait and see how the chain stores succeed with this technology. It's a fast changing world so worth keeping a close eye on progress. Also, most independents I speak to pride themselves on great customer service. Where talking to the customer is important, a personal relationship is developed. This is the focus for independents and what they do so well. Kiosks may add value in certain areas but they will never replace this personal relationship between retailer and customer.

David Mackley MBA BSc is Managing Director of Intelligent Retail - providers of Multichannel EPoS and e-commerce websites for independent retailers. If you have any questions you can contact David on T: +44 (0)845 680 0126 or E: dmackley@intelligentretail.co.uk

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