Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Last year about this time, I talked to my staff about making some professional resolutions. You know, we’d commit to reading a business-themed book a quarter, or to joining and becoming active in a professional organization. I thought we could benefit from sharing these resolutions and following up on them from time to time throughout the year.
It lasted a month.
If your position has the power to influence your self-service deployments, odds are you could make some changes to them in 2008 that would make the machines more useful to their users and therefore better for your company’s bottom line. With optimism that you’ll have better success than I did in 2007, here are five resolutions you can make, each with self-service in mind:
1. Be a user and a watcher. Have you gone into one of your locations and tried your kiosk? How about the self-service devices at other businesses? Pay attention to how the experience yours delivers fares on its own and in comparison. I recently used a self-checkout kiosk at a local library. Things worked great until it asked the password for my library card — a question not made at the counter. I bet 90 percent of would-be users don’t know their library card passwords. Yet, the librarian had just complained she had no idea why the machines weren’t used more.
2. Take cash. Wherever you can, whenever you can. The United States Postal Service is having trouble getting customers to use the award-winning Automated Postal Center kiosk, which takes cards but no bills or coins. Yet, as we reported on Self-Service World.com, USPS officials know most users want to pay cash for postage.
3. Do inspections. My route to work passes only one gas station, and filling up anywhere else is a hassle. But I’ve gone stretches where I’ve driven out of my way to avoid the more convenient pumps. Why? Because the receipts on the self-serve pumps always are out of paper. Whatever your kiosks may do, they probably have something that can run out or break or get so dirty no one wants to touch it. If your deployment is too big to inspect personally, assign people to help. Or investigate one of the many services available that can empower you with remote-monitoring abilities.
4. Visit a tradeshow. There’s no substitute for kicking the tires in person. Visiting a show is a great way to see the latest in technology and applications, and to hear industry experts and other deployers share their lessons. Another benefit: It will re-invigorate your enthusiasm for the technology.
5. Be nice to the people who work with the kiosks. It doesn’t matter how great your self-service technology is if you don’t have happy, helpful employees working for you, too. And since many workers see self-service as a threat, acknowledging their value becomes even more important. It’s a sad thing for a business when a customer leaves believing the kiosk was the friendliest help there.
Who knows whether you’ll follow-through with any of these. The main thing is to be aware there’s always something you could be doing better.
Monday, 19 November 2007
It’s a familiar scene in many houses on the fourth Thursday in November: Relatives young and old chat together, cousins and siblings play football in the back yard, and the introverts watch old Westerns in the basement. In the kitchen, an assortment of gourmet gurus peel aluminum foil off the Thanksgiving dishes they’ve prepared.
But how does an inexperienced cook even begin to contribute to the family feast?
One place to start is the grocery. Recipe and shopping kiosks come to the aid of those in dire need of culinary support. During the month leading up to Thanksgiving, some self-service devices provide recipes and shopping lists of ingredients for such culinary emergencies.
ShoptoCook, a provider of turnkey meal content kiosks, places a seasonal button on its kiosks, which are deployed in more than 200 grocery and retail stores. Leading up to Thanksgiving, the recipes there provide dozens of basic recipes for turkey, stuffing, vegetables and deserts. Advanced dishes, not for first-timers, also are available.
“It’s during that whole holiday season that people need help with what to cook,” said John Picard, chief operating officer of ShoptoCook Inc. “Many are interested in trying something new.”
In fact, Picard said, many experienced cooks want to impress and entertain their guests with new recipes. ShoptoCook’s kiosk provides an assortment of new deserts and side dishes that were not an option the year before.
And when the feast is finished, the kiosk even has ideas for the leftovers.
“The seasonal buttons are very popular,” Picard said. “It is a key part of what we offer.”
Giant Food Stores, a deployer of several self-service solutions, offers its own Shopping Solutions and Recipe Solutions kiosks. The search capability lets eager hosts search for innovative Thanksgiving recipes. Its kiosks include recipes for roast turkey with corn bread stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberry relish, roasted zucchini and yam casserole. Many of the recipes also come with preparation and nutrition information.
For those looking to interject some healthy alternatives into their Thanksgiving feast for friends and family with special dietary requirements, Portland, Ore.-based Healthnotes Inc.’s “Fresh Ideas” kiosks offer tips and recipes on fresh foods and health-related products. The Healthnotes kiosks include content on fresh foods, organics, diets, supplements and medications, as well as science-based product recommendations for managing health conditions, and even wines.
Connoisseurs who are especially serious about what they toast their turkey with can find kiosks that exclusively offer beverage assistance. According to a June Newsweek story, roughly half a dozen companies are testing and marketing interactive touchscreen wine kiosks for placement in grocery and liquor stores, as well as in wine shops. The kiosks allow shoppers to search for wines by name, grape, region, price or menu compatibility.
No matter what your experience level in the kitchen, self-service tools can help bring together a fine dining experience.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
The National Association of Convenience Store trade show is a smorgasbord of M&M’s, salted soft pretzels, adult magazines and gas pump displays. But the annual expo also draws its share of self-service companies and deployers.
This year’s NACS conference was no different on that end. However, many of the self-service devices on display were products that have been on the market for more than a year, not up and coming, innovative products that usually take over the trade show circuit. Some of those kiosks might have added features like multiple languages but they were hardly re-imagined.
Is this a sign that the kiosk market is running out of steam and product ideas are running dry? The answer is most likely not.
Many of the companies in attendance at NACS are entering the convenience store space for the first time. Coinstar, which owns half of DVD rental company redbox along with McDonald’s, showcased the DVD-rental kiosk. Coinstar and redbox announced plans at NACS to deploy more than two dozen DVD-rental kiosks in convenience stores across the United States. Coinstar plans to have 300 of the kiosks in place by the end of 2007.
NCR, Triton and others in the ATM space are also landing in c-stores. They have already been there for years, but are continuing to deploy more and more, particular in smaller grocery chains.
A traditional, successful kiosk solution bodes well for convenience stores. In a retail environment where quick is best, a kiosk that is user friendly and familiar will get customers in and out of the store speedily. A complicated, yet innovative, kiosk would no doubt look very attractive in a c-store space, but likely confuse those in a hurry.
This is not to say that a multi-dimensional, never before seen, kiosk couldn’t make it. Something like a gift-card kiosk or the digital media kiosk MAX BOX could give c-store patrons something they are looking for and not have them loitering.
As mobile and Internet self-service makes its way into the market more prominently (some would already say they are the most prominent), it will be interesting to see what happens to the standalone kiosk. I’m not sure you will see customers use their cell phones to text in an order for a pop and a candy bar. Likewise, an Internet site to preorder your gasoline and get a sandwich at the c-store deli is unlikely.
So I imagine the tried and true kiosks that have worked successfully for years and have ingrained themselves in key markets will be around.
Monday, 05 November 2007
Information collected at the cash register is a rich pool of data that can help retailers ratchet up the effectiveness of their digital signage networks.
The concept is simple: Take the millions of lines of time-stamped playlist data from the signage network, place them alongside the millions of lines of time-stamped sales data from the POS, and compare. Look for patterns that reveal which bits of content are having an impact on sales.
"As soon as the tools for analyzing POS data against campaign schedules and specific content become standardized and easy to use, this metric will beat any other ROI measurements in retail digital signage," said Nurlan Urazbaev, director of marketing for BroadSign International.
While the data is on the network, waiting to be mined, most retailers are not using it. Bill Gerba, president of WireSpring Technologies, said about one-third to one-half of retailers with digital-signage networks are doing meaningful analysis of their playlist/POS correlation. The number is considerably higher for retailers that include self-service and kiosks in the mix, "probably because the kiosks are driving some kind of transaction that’s of a high value to them, and they want to know how to convert it better," he said.
Pure digital signage may not be transactional in nature, but its output data still can be analyzed and solid information can be extrapolated. What happened to sales of a specific brand of cookies when its ads were run — and what happened at the same time to the generics? Which spots provided the largest surges in sales of advertised products, and how did time-of-day have an impact? All of these can be tangibly measured when playlist data is taken out of its silo and placed alongside the real-world store data.
"Integrating digital signage systems to in-store systems is vital to the success of the concept," said Dick Trask, director of public relations for Scala. "Digital signage needs to become an integral part of the in-store marketing strategy and not a lone wolf vying for recognition."
Two major challenges exist for retailers: IT capabilities and the flexibility to react to what is learned.
In large corporations, IT bandwidth is less of a problem, since there usually are programmers in-house already familiar with the POS system and the way it stores data. For instance, Trask said the U.K. grocery chain Tesco built its own middleware between its POS and digital signage systems. Smaller retailers may have a tougher time creating this bridge.
Understanding the broad view of which types of content are having the biggest impact on sales can be a major asset for the creative team — and can provide solid data to executives on the value of the signage network.
A third-party solution
For companies unable or unwilling to build their own POS/digital signage analysis tools, there is at least one turnkey third-party solution. Helmed by former executives from Microsoft, MSN and Amazon, DS-IQ’s analytics engine correlates digital signage and POS data, outputting it to a set of custom dashboards on the Web.
"While a campaign is still in-flight, you can get detailed feedback on precisely what is working and what’s not, while there’s still time to make a positive difference," said June Eva Peoples, vice president of business development for DS-IQ.
One possible downside, Gerba said, is that retailers can be reluctant to open their POS data to outside entities.
Peoples would not reveal pricing for the DS-IQ service, but said it "more than pays for itself by optimizing category sales lift."