Blog: Ron Bowers 

Ron Bowers (bio)
SVP, Business Development
Frank Mayer & Associates

Tuesday, 13 December 2011
I feel the need to echo Joe Grove’s recent commentary, Why we’re writing about more than kiosks. There is a place for the nuts and bolts of kiosk deployment, but the bigger success picture involves the quest to keep shoppers as actively engaged in bricks-and-mortar stores as they are with the online and mobile experience. We are partners in the retailer's battle for relevancy.
 
At our office last week we listened in on comScore’s report of How Mobile Is Changing the Retail Environment. Their findings give new meaning to the old Yellow Pages slogan, "let your fingers do the walking."
 
There is a strong and growing appetite for mobile shopping. ComScore reports that two-thirds of smart phone owners have now engaged in some form of mobile shopping. This stat encompasses a broad range of behaviors ranging from socially sharing a product recommendation, to researching prices, to purchasing via a mobile device.
 
Actual mobile purchasing activity is still low, with 38 percent of smart phone owners having used their phone to buy something, but the potential is huge. Fully 80 percent of respondents said they were likely to use their phone for purchasing in the future. With coming acceptance of NFC and mobile wallet payments, this will bring many into the convenience fold. Admittedly, not all of these purchases will be physical goods, but there will be a growing impact on the shopping experience at retail stores.
 
The Bizrate Insights/Forrester study from May 2011 further demonstrates that shopping via tablet has to be factored into the mobile equation. Sixty percent of tablet owners used their device to shop in the first half of this year. We can speculate that post-holiday measurement will show growth in tablet usage.
 
Observers point out that retailers must embrace the mobile shopper with value, convenience, innovation and a shopping experience that is omni-channel. Truly we must embrace all shoppers with this mindset. Already, 36 percent of mobile purchasing takes place in-store.
 
We are approaching a point where most shoppers will be mobile shoppers or mobile-assisted shoppers, and our solutions need to be convergent. In some cases they need to be literally mobile with tablets on stands or movable touch screens at the shelf.
 
As Joe Grove stated, "self-service has come to mean far more than a touchscreen in a (stationary) box." Our solutions must be the portal that enables a satisfying, omni-channel experience for the consumer.
 
Having digested all of the above data, the retailer’s task is still about providing shopping options so customers can accomplish tasks in the most convenient, comfortable and preferable manner. There are far more considerations factored into that equation than ever before. Significantly, the biggest reason smartphone owners give for not purchasing on a mobile device is the limitation of screen size.
 
Consumers are freely expressing their preferences and it is incumbent upon retailers and their partners to listen. As we seem to be breaking out of a period of somberness, I’d like to think that the ghosts of consumers, past present and future are visiting retailers this holiday season with messages about how they want to shop. We need to work with retailers to deliver the range of superior experiences that their customers seek.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 10:56 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 06 December 2011
Has Retail Confidence Turned the Corner?

"American consumers have been taking a deep breath and making a decision that it’s OK to go shopping again," NRF Vice President Ellen Davis has declared. If the results of Black Friday weekend through Cyber Monday are any indication, consumers have exhaled and given themselves permission.

Spurred by heavy promotion and earlier openings, retail sales during the Thanksgiving weekend rose 16.4%; shoppers spent 9.1% more per person than last year, and sales hit $52 billion compared to $45 billion last year, according to NRF. This is higher than the average increase for November and December over the past 10 years. If correct, this would indicate a continued retail recovery that began last year after holiday sales fell the previous two years. NRF has posted that the earlier store openings on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, while easy to condemn, were actually very well received by time-crunched consumers and retailers trying to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, online shopping continues to win over millions of Americans this holiday season, with a record number hitting websites on Cyber Monday.

Retailers and brands are courting the consumer with discounts and offers, but what happens next? They will get a short-term return on their investment, but those focused on long-term engagement will be best positioned for the future. Retailers and brands that use the promise of self-service technology and social media to empower customers will create relationships that keep shoppers coming back when the holiday hype has modulated. Quite simply, the challenge of retail technology deployment goes beyond return on investment to include return on engagement.

At Customer Engagement Technology World (CETW) recently, I was honored to chair an insightful discussion centered on the importance of Return on Engagement vs. Return on Investment. It was led by three of the most respected and recognized B2C industry voices: Danna Vetter, vice president of consumer strategies for ARAMARK; Jennifer Nye, marketing and brand management strategist for Kohler Company; and Laura Davis-Taylor, SVP, managing director at ShopWork BBDO.

Danna  Vetter  Jennifer  Nye  Laura  Davis-Taylor
Vetter              Nye                 Davis-Taylor

Looking beyond the economic metric of ROI to the behavioral metric of ROE, Laura Davis-Taylor focused our discussion by asking the questions:
  • How has technology altered the traditional shopping path?
  • How are smart retailers responding?
  • What brands are serving as inspirational examples for others to follow?
How do Self-Service Technology and Social Media Inform What Happens Next?

I think we can all agree there is no longer just a traditional shopping path but many paths to purchase facilitated by mobile and social technology. Mobile helps consumers shop across all channels. Social media gives shoppers context and community, enlisting friends virtually in discovery and purchase decisions. These technologies work hand in hand to facilitate the kind of engagement that can turn trial and purchase into loyalty and evangelism.

Consumers have been a beacon for retailers, rapidly adopting mobile and social platforms to empower their shopping. Smart retailers are those who aren’t afraid to experiment to find out what works for their customers across retail environments. The retailers that will best use social shopping in their marketing are not just talking at, but are listening to, consumers and adapting what they’re delivering based on consumer response and interactions. This is engagement, defined by Wikipedia as: "the repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in a brand."

How a customer experiences a retailer or brand is no longer just within her head or with those in the immediate vicinity. The consumer has become the reviewer, the broadcaster, and the brand advocate. Marketers can remain passive in this remodeled environment or they can facilitate behavior and try to harness its power. These could be the best of times or the worst of times for brands and retailers that don’t heed the consumer’s acceptance of the engagement shopping model. Brands like Starbucks, that understand the opportunity offered by the new Facebook model of streaming content and encourage social media sharing through their in-store merchandising and mobile applications, are leading the way on one end of the spectrum. Walmart is far ahead as it develops an application that facilitates social sharing through impromptu communities. Customers will ultimately be able to engage in-store via their phones with other shoppers, asking and answering questions, seeking and giving opinions on products and deals.

As discussed at CETW, the way we deliver customer interaction is evolving, and the only limit to what technology can do is our imagination and retail implementation. The focus should be on breaking down the bricks and mortar between customer and retailer and engaging in a two-way dialogue aided by emerging digital media and in-store self-service interactive solutions. We need to incorporate this new model into our planning and development. The challenge of a deployment should not be just return on investment, but return on engagement as well.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 08:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
As the old song goes, "To start at the very beginning is a very good place to start…" It seems reasonable for those of us in the industry to expect clients who approach us to have gone through some linear process to define objectives, requirements and a budget for their interactive and digital merchandising project, but it isn’t always the norm. Many clients know most of what they want but have a hard time defining what it is they need.
 
The in-store merchandising industry has changed over the last decade. The initiation of a kiosk, mobile or digital signage program is a more collaborative effort than it used to be. Projects may cut across merchandising, marketing, purchasing, information technology, operations and customer experience departments. Each of these functions brings a unique perspective on planning and execution.
 
At the same time, all parties need a budget framework that puts everyone on the same page. Former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, in his book Winning, called budgeting "the most effective process in management."
 
Managers dream about harmonized expectations and streamlined procedure, but there is a whole road of decision-making that organizations must travel before reaching that plane. You’ve probably noticed that many clients who approach you are at different stages of planning.
 
Sometimes clients are reluctant to talk about a budget. They express the notion that to fully disclose a budget will place them at a disadvantage. I think this is a counterproductive mindset. In reality a good retail merchandising company approaches a project saying, "How can we best meet the objectives and needs of this client within the framework of their budget?" rather than "How can we maximize the revenue from this project?" The client’s selection of a creative, industry-recognized company, one with financial stability and collaborative experience that has created a number of successful industry solutions, should instill confidence. 
 
Other times client team members may be in the position of launching their very first interactive project. They must overcome the hurdle not only of knowing the answers but knowing the right questions to ask. It is our first responsibility to aid the client in understanding that there are a number of factors influencing the success or failure of any creative endeavor and to communicate that, "You don’t know what you don’t know." It is the responsibility of the interactive and digital merchandising partner to help flush out all the caveats that the client will need to protect against.
 
We have developed a preliminary checklist of 10 questions that can lead clients who have not yet done so to the point of arriving at requirements and a budget. The questions below seem straightforward enough, but there are many considerations that inform the answers.
 
1) What are the primary objectives?
2) Who is the target user?
3) Where will units be placed?
4) How many units will be deployed?
5) What are the size requirements?
6) How long will the unit be in the field?
7) What key hardware features do your objectives dictate?
8) Has a software application been developed?
9) What look and feel do you want your solution to have?
10) What are the installation, support and maintenance requirements?
 
A successful interactive display or kiosk has its genesis in a fully transparent consultative partnership between the client, the partners involved and the in-store merchandising company. Answering these questions establishes a solid foundation for a project and a sure footing for the relationships.
 
The reality is all of us strive to give the best advice and the best service to our customers, whatever their orientation, but wouldn’t it be great if we were all singing from the same place in the songbook. Collaboration and trust between the interactive merchandising company and the client is the single greatest indicator of project success. It is our responsibility as an industry to engage frankly with our clients and offer them the success they deserve!
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 09:29 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 07 October 2011
I just returned from the Display and Design Ideas, DDI Forum 2011, in Boston. DDI is the presenter of GlobalShop, the largest annual U.S. tradeshow for the store design, visual merchandising and in-store retail marketing industries.

The Forum is the retail industry's premier annual executive decision-maker's event. The event allows participants to discuss in a non-competitive, open forum the state of retail and issues that are affecting consumer buying habits.

A key takeaway is the economy is a factor but less of a concern than last year. The majority of retailers are expanding or preparing to expand the number of stores and redesigns for their existing stores. As I was told by the retail experience executive for one of the top three grocers, "We are preparing for growth and working hard to find efficiency in our growth process. We are buying competitors' stores that are downsizing and upgrading these stores to fit our brand experience!"

The theme of "How can we ramp up for the coming consumer demand?" was constant throughout the Forum. A number of the sessions discussed how technology has become the catalyst to accomplish this at the store level. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how the retail innovators are describing the efforts they are targeting. They are not discussing scanners, printers, digital signage, kiosks, or QR codes as the answer; they are discussing how technology will enable better consumer engagement within their stores!

The overriding discussion centered on the fact that technology is not the end point; technology is one tool to make the consumer's experience at retail engaging, scalable, and unique to the retailers brand. It is this brand equity that creates the experience that leads to trial, loyalty, and hopefully consumer evangelism for the brand.

As I listened, I was reminded of James Crawford's very exciting and insightful presentation on the intersection of Technology and Store Design given at a different event, the International Retail Design Conference in Toronto, Canada. With his permission, I'd like to share some excerpts:

The 6 "Dos and Don'ts of Technology Enabled Design:

Don't let your competition design your shopping experience.

Designers are used to thinking of the in-store experience as self-contained and in their control. No matter what influences a 21st century shopper may have been under OUTSIDE the store (marketing/advertising, ecommerce, social media, etc.); once they step into the store, they're free of those influences. That's simply no longer the case, as competitors can (and do) connect with shoppers at the store shelf using tools like Amazon's mobile app... This leaves retailers with a simple choice: step up and create a better mobile enabled shopping experience that keeps the shopper engaged with the brand both physically and electronically... or cede half the shopping experience to competitors.

Do start thinking of yourself as an experience designer.

...The future of "store design" is taking the shopping experience and expanding the engagement points beyond the physical elements of the store. Store designers must embrace a future where their "designs" are experiences that engage the shopper cross channel at home, on the go, and in the store... not just physical elements within the store itself.

Don't think technology use is (too) generational.

It's far too easy to dismiss technology as something that only the youngest generation of shoppers embraces, and therefore not relevant to "our target shoppers." The truth is that shoppers of virtually all demographics are rapidly adopting new technologies into their lives, and retailers that dismiss incorporating technology into their store experiences run the risk of being perceived as increasingly irrelevant by ALL their shoppers, not just the young ones...

Remember that 50 percent of shoppers will be carrying Smartphone's in 2012.

The window of opportunity for retailers to take a "leading edge" or even "fast follower" role in embracing mobile technology is closing rapidly. Ecommerce players like Amazon and Zappos already have strong mobile strategies in place, and retailers deploying mobile solutions will quickly see the perception of their innovation shift from thought-leader to also-ran...

Consider a trip to Japan for inspiration.

While examples abound all over the world of retailers who are "doing it right" with store design, Japan alone has the unique advantage of a very well evolved mobile infrastructure. Near ubiquity (and universal compatibility) of Smartphone's that can read a single barcode standard, display information, and even allow payment means that shoppers in Japan are simply more used to using their pho's nes in the shopping process than any other single market...

Don't be afraid to take risks; this is the time to experiment.

There is no right or wrong answer to technology-enabled store design, and what will benefit retailers the most right now is the willingness and ability to experiment and make (controlled) mistakes. The bottom line is that there are many new shopping patterns and dynamics emerging, and taking advantage of these new shopping ideas requires trying new things, measuring the results, and deploying those that work...

Crawford's message was clear: Retail is embracing the intersection of technology and store design not for the sake of new technology but for how it can be another tool that is combined with well thought-out marketing and merchandising strategy. The result is the effective creation of elegant customer-centric engagement solutions in the store.
Posted by: Admin AT 01:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
There are more than a handful of concerns keeping retail marketers up at night. Two prime ones are how to drive traffic to stores and how to keep customers engaged and in-store long enough to make purchases. Successful retailers are seeing the value of mobile devices to help achieve these aims.
 
Though this may be an "a-ha" moment for some, it should not come as a revelation that providing a mobile charging station for customers will facilitate their shopping and may keep them in the store longer. In a shopping center or shopping mall environment, it is also a traffic driver.
 
Customers no longer enter the store as white pages waiting for store employees to fill in the blanks with helpful product details. They've researched at home online or en route on their phones. They may respond to a location-based offer from Shopkick while in the aisle. They're using third party applications like Shop Savvy and Red Laser to compare prices while on site. They may even be scanning bar codes on products and displays for information. Social shoppers are posting their latest finds on Facebook or sending photos to friends for a second opinion.
 
Mobile shoppers are increasingly using their devices for sales assistance, and most everyone mastered the art of shopping and talking about a decade ago. The longer someone is in the store, especially within a shopping mall, the more apt they are to lose their treasured connectivity to a dead battery.
 
Device charging is a near universal need. We aren't just talking about the teenager whose entertainment is spending the afternoon shopping with friends. We may well be talking about the working mother who finally gets a few moments to meet some personal needs but must stay in touch with her family. Then there's the DIY guy who researched a project before going to the home center but can't access the notes and links on his phone because it just ran out of juice.
 
Airport retailer Hudson News and KEO Connect, LLC, were the first to recognize the value of providing a free phone charging information kiosk to travelers, some of the most mobile-dependent among us. The KEO unit's unique combination of interactive touch screens allows travelers to learn about news, weather, their destinations, hotels, restaurants, and car rentals. Travelers immediately engage with information at the point of interest while their phone, hand held game, or iPod is being charged in one of several locked and secure self-service compartments in the kiosk.
 
The Hudson News customer can shop and grab that bottle of water and magazine while not having to guard an exposed mobile device in a busy airport! Not only is the phone itself safe, the data on the phone is completely secure. The unit is designed so there is no danger of the phone being "juice jacked" while recharging. There are no data paths between the handset and the host computer.
 
The ROI of quick, safe and secure phone charging should be even more demonstrable for retailers who serve less time-constrained customers. The incorporation of digital signage and touch screen technology can showcase products and offers that compel leisurely customers to browse and buy while their phones are being revived. Think too of the traffic-driving advantage of being the mall store that offers free charging.
 
Charging device technology has advanced. With a secure kiosk, it is no longer necessary to plug in and stare at your phone like the proverbial watched pot, while making sure it doesn't walk away. The unique pin number that the customer assigns to the charging compartment opens and closes a secure bay, leaving the user free to roam.
 
The charging station is a way for retailers to provide a great customer experience.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 04:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 27 June 2011
Smartphones are making people smarter, and they’re being used less as phones every day. People are using their mobile devices to simplify the tasks of daily life, and smart shopping is high on the list.

That much was obvious last week at the Mobile Marketing Association Forum, held in New York. One of the panels that drew high interest centered on how consumers are using mobile devices not just to buy goods and services but to find stores, contact businesses and make informed decisions prior to making a purchase at the traditional point of sale.

The results of a Google-commissioned study, The Mobile Movement: Understanding Smartphone Users, revealed the following about U.S. smartphone owners:
•58 percent use their devices to go online daily
•70 percent using them while in-store
•74 percent make a purchase as a result of information obtained via their phone

People who are using smartphones to shop are being converted to purchase either in-store, online or even on their phones. There are numerous paths, and in-store merchandising and mobility are destined to become more closely linked, because engagement across channels and media has become commonplace and expected by consumers. Consumers want a seamless experience between online at home, on their mobile device and in the store.

At the Forum, John Hadl, CEO of Brand in Hand, shared his insights that, at the core, mobile satisfies the consumer’s desire to self-promote, look good and get information that helps him make decisions, engage in commerce, maintain relationships and be entertained.

Some of these desires are fulfilled when consumers interact on their phones with digital signage. Others will be fulfilled when they grab information viewed on a kiosk via text message or when they scan a 2-D bar code and link to it on their mobile device. Mobile lends connectivity and portability to a time-strapped consumer.

Consumer behavior is evolving rapidly. Retailers and brands readily admit they do not have strategies and tactics figured out yet. The message from panelists at the Forum was that retailers should test, learn, refine and test again. Marketers are working to find out what consumers want, when they want it and where they want it.

If we are to serve our clients well, we must be along on this journey with them. We as an industry need to facilitate the education and serve as an advocate for our clients. Kiosks and digital signage are activating media for the integrated cross-channel marketing programs for brands and retailers. We must be attuned to their strategies and keep track of shopper activity to engage consumers the way they want to be engaged.

The result of successful engagement is trial; the result of successful trial is loyalty. The end result of brand loyalty is a relationship that allows the customer to have input. When successful, you have created an evangelist for your brand!

The path to purchase will not be solely facilitated by mobile technology or another technology medium; it will be aided by mobile and the engagement of merchandising solutions we have created for retail, often working in tandem. This offers today’s consumers the opportunity for a true one-to-one relationship at retail.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 01:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, 03 June 2011
A recent survey of U.S. consumers by MasterCard indicates 62 percent of U.S. mobile phone users would be open to using their device to make a purchase. MasterCard had a little fun with their survey and found out that 45 percent of women, versus 34 percent of men, would rather have their phones than their wallets surgically attached so they'd always remember them when leaving the home. If Near Field Communications (NFC) is as transformative as some speculate, it will make our mobile device an even more valuable appendage.

Much of the conversation about NFC revolves around the enabling of mobile payments and the cooperation needed among players to make the tap and pay option widely available. There was news in February that many international network carriers are driving toward standardization. More recently the three major U.S. carriers, Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile announced they will team up with MasterCard and Visa in the ISIS mobile payments venture.

New Blackberry and Android offerings are equipped with NFC and there has been much will-they-or-won’t-they speculation about whether it will be in the next iPhone. John Paczkowski, of All Things Digital, recently wrote in his Blog, that Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi, who believes Apple, will forgo supporting NFC on its iOS devices until consumer adoption is certain and it’s reached a critical mass with merchants. Sacconaghi went on to say, that currently, a very few U.S. merchant locations support NFC-based payments, which means the ramp-up to broad NFC infrastructure will likely be a long one. “NFC-based mobile payments require NFC-capable POS terminals,” Sacconaghi wrote. “Only 51,000 retail locations support contactless payments (per VeriFone’s 10-K); given that First Data alone deals with 4.1 million merchant locations in the U.S. this suggests current penetration of just over 1 percent of merchant locations. Sacconaghi concludes that clearly, a higher critical mass is needed before payments would take off!

Amidst this newsworthy backdrop, there is an opportunity to take a step back from the ecosystem and technology and think about the person doing the tapping. Andrew Berg, writing for Wireless Week, believes it will be customer focused benefits other than payments that will lead the way in orienting people to NFC and establishing the trust needed to gain a wide acceptance network of mobile payments.

NFC will facilitate a range of essential consumer activities. Right now most of the NFC trials in the U.S. involve payments. At the same time, Google is testing the use of NFC in certain cities for Places, its local recommendation service. Hotels.com and The New York Times will be delivering exclusive mobile content and offer Smartphone application downloads in a test of the out-of-home service mTag in San Francisco.

Most relevant to our industry is the targeted discovery it will enable. A tap of an NFC enabled phone can trigger offers and informative content at the point of decision, trigger an application download that promotes loyalty and ease the exchange of information. These are just some of the customer benefits that NFC will bring one day to the environment of kiosks, in-store merchandising and digital signage.

When all of the pieces are in place, NFC is a technology that can facilitate the relationship between the brand and the consumer. Consumers will decide if they want to be marketed to in this way. If they perceive real value, their early experiences will pave the way for closer engagement.

By 2015 iSuppli, a technology market researcher, estimates that 30.5 percent of handsets worldwide will be equipped with NFC. Will the readers of this blog incorporating NFC into their solutions help pave the way for consumer acceptance? Are we focused in on the Consumer Engagement possibilities yet? What do you think?



Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 10:36 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 31 May 2011
It has been my pleasure over the past 28 years to be an active participant in the interactive marketplace for retail, education, services and the government sectors. Prior to the CETW show, in San Francisco last month, I was honored at the Board of Directors meeting for the (DSA) Digital Screenmedia Association to be among a group of industry leaders and friends elected to the posts of ambassadors for our industries. Brian Ardinger of Nanonation was named DSA President; Jared Miller, managing director of self-service & emerging technology for United Airlines was named executive vice president of mobile; Lou Giacalone, the founder CoolSign, Haivision, was named executive vice president of digital signage, and I'm honored to represent the kiosk industry as executive vice president.

The Digital Screenmedia Association is the trade association and educational advocate for the digital merchandising industry, kiosks, digital signage and mobile. Our partnership is timely and valuable because of the significant changes our economy, industry and major channels of consumer interaction, have gone through over the past three years. All four officers of our industry trade association agree that there has been a major paradigm shift in the marketplace.

The top-down brand model is dead! Brands that will survive and be successful in the new marketplace are focused on bottom-up customer engagement. The new customer wants to engage, not just buy. This new model forces brands to move from managing perceptions and controlling the message, to inventing new ways to get customers to engage with their brands.

Welcome to the digital interactive experience at retail. Consumers through ever-changing improvements in technology can evaluate the value of products and services like never before through kiosks, digital media signage and mobile. These changes have created a brave new world where mass collaboration and open innovation have turned old marketing and retail models upside down. The precondition for the new customer, more than ever in the past, is trust in brand integrity. The brand must provide value and exhibit integrity and transparency as part of its corporate DNA! The brand has evolved from being an image to becoming a relationship.

We've had a whole generation growing up digital and now we have a new formula for radical change in marketing and merchandising. Given this generation's propensity to ignore advertisements in traditional media, their growing ability to scrutinize companies, and their surging power in the marketplace, they are driving the change to customer engagement, brand collaboration, and in some cases shared brand ownership! They interact through multi-directional, one-to-one, and highly tailored digital communications media. They choose the medium and the message.

What is the resulting impact of this shift in consumer power? Better value for the customer and higher customer loyalty through the participation and engagement of the customer.
What is the resolute brand effect? In "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff make the math pretty simple: engaged brands are growing their value by 18 percent; those that don't engage are declining by 6 percent. From a brand marketing strategy the future is obvious, engage or parish by a slow and costly death tied to old legacy attitudes of brand development. It's time to understand and embrace that the customer of today and of tomorrow is trending to engagement, not just buying!

We as an industry have a great opportunity to participate in the expansion of this consumer trend toward retail engagement, but with that comes a substantial responsibility for establishing industry standards and best practices that will benefit the consumer, brand marketer and the retailer equally for the benefit of all and the good of the marketplace. Our new economy is expanding at a slower pace than in the past and with that comes more questions and second-guessing, but there is no second guessing the consumer's attitude going forward.

Consumers are embracing the marketplace that will afford them the opportunity to influence and participate in how they will be marketed to. Consumers still want to shop; this has not changed. However, consumers understand the significance of their ability to have, through new technology, more choices, more convenience, and more say in how they are marketed to, where that is, and when that is. The brand has the ability more than at any time in history to create success and growth in the marketplace as long as the brand maximizes its true destiny, consumer engagement through customer experience!
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 07:30 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Before the crowds poured into Customer Engagement Technology World in San Francisco last week, I stood in FMA's booth and pondered the power of self-service technology to positively impact millions of lives. We are an industry with staying power that now engages so many aspects of daily living. Where we once described ourselves as a non-traditional, we are now clearly mainstream to consumers and essential to the success of retailers.

In our booth alone, we showcased kiosks that can facilitate access to health care for millions, reduce anxiety and smooth the journey for busy travelers and streamline the experience of time-starved grocery shoppers.

The KEO Connect Mobile Phone Charging Kiosk, located in Major Hudson News stores in airports, keeps travelers engaged. It is an interactive free-charging, digital display and information kiosk, equipped with updatable video content and touch- screen technology. While their phones are charging, travelers can access flight information, news, weather, entertainment, concierge services and download digital music, movies and e-books on the kiosk or can shop, browse and dine in another airport location.

The KEO kiosk's enclosure is straightforward, bold and scaled for an airport concourse. The unit is designed to make an instant impression on a moving target: airport travelers.

The Industry Award-winning, SoloHealth Station unveiled at CETW facilitates access to healthful information for those who may have limited health-care options and are looking for the path to a healthful lifestyle. It is being developed to provide free self-service health screenings of vision, blood pressure, weight and body mass index. It delivers an overall health assessment and access to a database of local healthcare providers that can be contacted through the kiosk to make appointments – all in a matter of minutes. Users can track their results over time.

The SoloHealth Station is engineered to educate and communicate with digital signage from advertisers on top, changeable stationary graphics on the side and an interactive touchscreen for users.

Ergonomic design is a key element in this health-screening kiosk. It features a bar that serves as a back rest and stability aid; a seat that accommodates a range of body types; a blood pressure cuff that is flexible; and soft, curved lines that are inviting.

The Giant Foods Loyalty Shopping Solution Kiosk allows customers to create their own personal shopping experience. Shoppers can gather a shopping list, get assistance in meal planning, receive personalized offers and reference information on their loyalty card. They can also check prices and locate items on their own.

The Giant Foods Shopping Kiosk makes the shopping experience more efficient, and its sleek design is in keeping with this objective. It was engineered with economy of space in mind.

What binds these kiosks with such diverse objectives together is the human engagement and retail experience elements that I think assure their longevity. To be clear, they also deliver on the objectives of their deployers, who are our customers.

They focus on authentic consumer needs and give us a sense of control. Users are empowered to meet the essential requirements of their lives. There's no fluff involved in charging your cell phone, getting where you need to go, obtaining basic information that facilitates well-being or feeding your family.

All of these kiosks employ the sticky and engaging user interface I talked about in a breakout session. The interactions are unique and personal. They are, wait for it...Engaging the consumer in a Retail experience that is intuitive, helpful and satisfying, first time every time that has created trial and now loyalty for the consumer.

They integrate services with powerful messaging. Every kiosk quickly and succinctly delineates what it can do for the user. Self-service and digital signage work in combination to draw passersby into exploration and usage of the unit.
Finally, form follows function. The design flows from a thorough understanding of purpose, customers' needs and a consideration of location.

How we deliver customer interaction from a technology perspective will continue to evolve. (The presence of the new multi-touch integration by Nanonation and Touch Revolution in our booth is proof.) Adhering to the core elements that define success of self-service projects will ensure we continue to deliver the holy grail of meaningful interaction that our customers seek and our ultimate users have come to expect.

Looking ahead we are designing and engineering for a new generation for whom reliance on screens of all types is intuitive. Ed Crowley, principal and VP for EuroTouch Kiosks, coined the demographic for our industry at the pre CETW Board meeting in San Francisco; the generation coming up can be thought of as "Screenagers." Ed nailed the future call to action we will all be addressing for our clients and their consumers moving forward.

To this new call to action, I would like to coin my own Metric for the Millennia. I suggest we will be measuring the success of our deployments not in ROI, Return on Investment, but more by ROE, the Return on Engagement that our solutions will offer millions of consumers.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 10:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, 03 May 2011

The economic downturn has permanently changed the way consumers shop. More shopping trips begin online and at in-store kiosks, and price comparisons and coupon searches are even more common. Coupled with the social media explosion and breakthrough interest in mobile shopping, 2011 is poised to be the year e-commerce convergence moves from the sidelines to the heart of a retailer's strategic cross-channel-execution.

Retail technology solutions are at a major tipping point, paradigm shift or whatever game-changing catch phrase applies.

"The use of multi-touch technology allows the kiosk designer to make the system an extension of what people have with them every day," said Gene Halsey, director of Product Line for Touch Revolution, a projected capacitive touch-screen manufacturer. "By integrating the experience of Smartphones with the interface of multi-touch, kiosks now become as natural and easy to use as the fastest growing consumer products in recent memory."
There are a multitude of benefits to the multi-touch technology, many of which focus on the user experience. Taken together, these elements result in more-informed, more-efficient and more-engaging interaction.

Key elements to a multi-touch "gesture experience"

Familiar Interface
The familiar interaction of a smartphone touchscreen lends itself to redefining the user interface. If you know that the person walking up to the screen will know what to do when he touches the screen – you don't need to design large buttons or other "old" interface characteristics in the software. You can also place icons in such a way that people naturally think they are using their mobile devices. The kiosk then becomes an extension of what people have with them every day. This is a radically different way to think about kiosk design.

The projected capacitive technology also provides the ability to add multi-touch to the interface. Now adding familiar gestures to the interface is possible when designing content. It is natural to "swipe a finger" across the screen to flip the page. It's natural to "draw a circle" with a finger to scroll through options or "pinch a picture" to make the image larger. This frees the user from next-page icons, scroll bars and zoom buttons. The result is an opportunity to create content that is dynamic and fun to use.

"Today, the rules have changed and the power has shifted," said Brian Ardinger, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Nanonation. "Luckily, today's technologies like digital signage, kiosks and mobile will be key factors in engaging customers and differentiating offerings. These technologies will create the in-store experiences that resonate with today's consumer."

Clean, industrial design
Removing the front bezel from the monitor allows multiple design and installation alternatives. A multi-touch monitor can be embedded into the wall or other flat surface. Imagine creating a kiosk in a countertop. When visiting home improvement stores, customers can use interactive content within the kitchen design center layout — not at a stand-alone kiosk — but actually embedded in the kitchen product display.

Without the bezel on the monitor, it is possible to create interactive-video spaces within traditional retail environments. Monitors can be tiled together to create content that is bigger than a single monitor — without a concern about the interruption to the visual continuity caused by the bezel.

Multi-user options
The natural extension of multi-touch screens is the ability for multiple users to touch the same screen. This accommodates a system design with four different screen regions built around different information. Each of those regions can now be active at the same time —in essence creating four kiosks out of one screen. Systems become playful — one person can flick images across the screen to another. Another interesting option is to design games for multiple people to play in amusement situations. Imagine an amusement park with way-finding stations that can switch to a game station that the whole family can use. The traditional amusement kiosk game "one-trick" pony can now be a multi-function device that can do things that weren't possible only a couple of years ago.

Cleanliness
When the entire surface of the touch monitor is glass, the kiosk cleanliness factor improves significantly. No longer are there dust collectors and crevices all around the surface of the touch area that need to be constantly cleaned. Customers and employees don't have to worry about the grease that has visibly collected around the bezel when you put the self-service ordering kiosk in the fast food restaurant. It is very difficult to keep dirt and grease out of old bezels. Take away the bezel — take away the place for that junk to collect.

Durability
A projected capacitive monitor can be put in a range of places that weren't practical for touch input in the past. Even with surface damage, the projected-capacitive screen continues to work. Even at the extreme case of breaking the cover glass, the screen can continue to work. It becomes a different definition of uptime for the machine operator. It reduces concern about machines going down as often. Many people have dropped iPhones in the past and continued to use them for days, weeks or even months before getting sensors replaced. The same can now be true for the public-use interactive kiosks.

Focus on the user experience
According to Forrester Research, the public now spends as much time on the Internet as watching television. This behavior is facilitated, in part, by the use of mobile phones. Adults are just as likely to have a mobile phone as a computer.

Price Waterhouse Coopers studied post recession shoppers In "The New Consumer Behavior Paradigm: Permanent or Fleeting" and found that retailers must leverage their marketing, merchandising and positioning to push their offerings that are "need to haves" and build a case for the "must haves." Although most people rely on cell phones in their everyday lives, this is a tall order in the context of a 2-inch screen. This goal is attainable when elements are integrated and retailers employ a variety of digital media, kiosks and in-store merchandising.

This brings us to the real success at retail — collaboration across channels. Consumers post The Great Recession are looking for trust relationships with retailers. They are guarding their resources and have changed their shopping paradigm to a direction that is more selective and targeted. It is generally THE BRAND that has brought consumers back to the shopping environment. It is THE EXPERIENCE at retail that builds loyalty and will keep them coming back.

Consumers are expecting that all contacts with the brand, across channels, on-line, in-store or in-hand will be consistent and coordinated. They are expecting their needs and brand access to be met without limitations on a particular channel. The "BRAND" means more today than it did as little as just three years ago, and it encompasses all the interactions — digital and physical — that consumers have with retailers. Consumers have finally embraced the true success of the retail shopping experience, The EXPERIENCE is the BRAND!

A strong retail kiosk merchandising company can successfully marry the key elements of brand marketing, customer interaction, design, engineering and technology. The product of collaboration and experience in all of these areas is far more important than the features or price of an individual piece of technology. Paco Underhill, in "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping," warns not to "get lost in the technology." It isn't the individual ingredients but the strategy of the whole that produces a winning solution.

In analyzing the results of their study, The Customer Centric Store 2010, RSR found that the No. 1 opportunity in the current market is to refine the customer's in-store experience. And the No. 1use of in-store technology, identified by 76 percent of retailers was to "maintain and/or improve the customer experience."

Interactive merchandising, whether delivered by a kiosk, an iPad app or digital signage, is no longer an add-on option for the early adapter. It is a crucial differentiator in the retail setting.

All retailers and brands have access to the same marketing, merchandising and technology resources. It is the savvy and experience with which they employ these means to create awareness, satisfy and delight consumers, and convert shoppers into loyal buyers that will translate to success.

Critical Takeaway Tips

  • The kiosk is an extension of the consumer's experience in the retailer's store. The design of the kiosk needs to reflect the "brand" that is the retailer and offer a "call to action," an engagement, that is consistent with the retailer's marketing and merchandising strategy. The EXPERIENCE is the BRAND!
  • The software interface must be designed for the multi-touch experience and leverage all the potential intuitive tendencies of the consumer's interaction. If the software is not engaging the gesture interface intuitiveness and flexibility, why use the multi-touch screen?
  • Projective capacitive multi-touch is the logical choice for retail or any consumer interactive self-service deployment. Cost, flexibility and longevity can deliver a generous ROI.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 08:37 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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