Self-service kiosks transform the customer experience
Self-service kiosk systems that augment the shopping experience and release a leaner retail staff for other activities are growing in variety and versatility. As customer acceptance grows, the technology's ability to enhance customer service is emerging as an important benefit to retailers.
Booming use of the Internet is shifting more consumers into a technology comfort zone that is enabling retail kiosk applications to "gain mainstream acceptance, with deployment driven by retailers' desire to increase customer service," notes Jeff Roster, Gartner's principal analyst for the retail industry. "This is the driver that should remain the critical growth factor in kiosk deployment over the next three years."
The 2004 Kiosk Business/Gartner Kiosk Benchmark Study reports that improving customer service and reducing operating costs are retailers' top two reasons for implementing kiosks.
Reducing costs and improving customer service are clearly the motives behind the deployment of a customer-facing kiosk application in all 1,200 of Staples' U.S.-based retail stores. With secure wireless network connections based on Cisco Systems technology, which ties together several store applications, the kiosks allow Staples shoppers to get additional information without having to track down an employee. They can also order products not readily available in the store.
The solution "helps us get information closer to our customers' point of purchase and enables store associates to be more productive, allowing them to focus on our customers," states Scott Floeck, Staples chief information officer.
The customer-centric kiosk technology at Food Lion's Bloom concept stores improves the shopping experience through the use of Information Stations located throughout the store. Here, customers can verify prices, locate items, get wine pairing and recipe suggestions, and a list of complementary side dishes for food items scanned.
The information portals are located in easy-to-see locations throughout the stores and are there purely to help customers find products, get information and experience an easier shopping trip. Indirectly, by creating a smoother, more pleasurable shopping experience, sales increase over time as customers are drawn into returning again and again. Likewise, Stop & Shop uses self-service kiosks in its deli departments not to sell, but to provide an added level of convenience as well as to stand out from the competition.
A kiosk called the Title Sleuth is a self-help computer station at Borders stores nationwide that enhances customer service without an outright sales pitch by allowing shoppers to search for a book, CD or video without staff assistance, confirm if the item is in stock, access a map to determine the item's location in the store, find titles at this store or a nearby store, and order items for delivery or pick-up at a later time.
Customers also use Title Sleuth to access recommendation lists and find out more about store events. Overall, 40 percent of Borders customers use Title Sleuth to
locate sought-after titles, performing more than 1.5 million searches per week.
At Publix Super Markets, self-service checkout stations based on Fujitsu's U-Scan technology, "helps us meet the challenges of providing excellent customer service while reacting to the market requirements of our rapid growth," says Danny Resener, chief information officer for Publix. In these deployments, the kiosks are used in the more traditional role of point of transaction.
Self-service kiosks at Mac's Convenience Stores of Canada are improving the customer shopping experience by allowing consumers with WiFi-equipped tablet PCs, laptops and PDAs to pay bills, recharge cell phone cards, purchase money orders, send emails, get maps and directions, print coupons for in-store discounts and more.
Launched in late April, and based on technology from Info Touch Technologies of Burnaby, British Columbia, the Mac's customer service kiosk application "gives consumers another reason to shop our stores, and will become an integral part of daily life for a large percentage of our patrons," states Kim Trowbridge, vice president of Mac's Western Division. Trowbridge says that virtually all financial service providers and most fee-for-service providers are migrating to an automated payment vehicle like those provided by Mac's.
"I think these kiosks are a natural next step as consumers gain experience and acceptance catches up," he says. "Consumer education and acceptance are the only issues I see related to the growth of multiple kiosk applications. It will take a little time for a broad group of consumers to feel comfortable with and trust machines to provide certain financial services reliably and securely. But soon we will see the day that these units are in every Mac's store, with more than one kiosk in a single location to meet increased demand."