The Perspective 
Wednesday, 01 April 2015

By David McCracken - Livewire Digital

Turn on any high school or college sports movie and you’ll see a natural rivalry between the jocks and the tech nerds(…who I refer to fondly, being one of them!). Something in their DNA just can’t make these two groups get along. But in the case of sports Halls of Fame, life doesn’t seem to imitate art — jocks and tech geeks get along perfectly.

The hottest trends in sports Halls of Fame are digital signs, kiosks, and interactive software to organize and display the overwhelming amount of sports information available.

Baseball Hall of Fame

From the exhibits to the devices employees use to run operations, the Baseball Hall of Fame is taking tech to a new level. The Cooperstown landmark uses digital signs and interactive kiosks to give visitors a customized experience, no matter what they’re interested in.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has also started digitizing three-dimensional objects like documents and historic items to give visitors a hands-on experience, even if the physical item itself isn’t in the museum.

College Football Hall of Fame

Hot on the heels of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s tech success is the hall of fame for America’s #2 pastime: college football. You won’t see any plaques or busts in the College Football Hall of Fame — you’ll see movable touch screens instead. This Atlanta hot spot also incorporates RFID technology. Each visitor who enters selects their favorite team, and interactive video walls and other elements throughout the Hall are customized to reflect their preferences.

University of Massachusetts

At the UMass Football Hall of Fame, visitors use an interactive exhibit to explore the university’s 130-year-old football program. Kiosks and digital signs show visitors detailed historical information, current data and statistics, and engaging information on players, coaches, bands, mascots, and more. The digital directories allow every visitor using the kiosk to easily find something of personal interest through use of the touch screen software.

Stevenson University

The Stevenson University Mustangs were inspired by the All-Sports Museum at my alma mater, Penn State University, and wanted to use the same interactive kiosks as well as video wall technology to celebrate their own program. Visitors of the Stevenson Hall of Fame use the touch screen kiosk and ultra-high definition video walls to learn all about the students and staff of the Athletics Program. Livewire’s eConcierge Content Management System makes it easy for school personnel to update and change the information on a dime — and since sports are always changing and evolving, this ensures the most up-to-date information available.

Ultimately, this technology provides so much more than could ever be inscribed on a plaque in traditional Halls of Fame. Why share a small amount of information with plaques, busts, and photos, when you can share a limitless amount with kiosks, video walls, digital directories, and a content management system?

Posted by: Admin AT 08:04 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 18 March 2015

By Jessica Glynn
Reality Interactive

Consumers may love shopping online, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for all purchases. Sometimes, you need to try before you buy. This is where having a physical location comes in handy.

Retailers that began in an exclusive eCommerce format like Birch Box and Athleta have started opening brick and mortar locations over the past few years. Now even Amazon is opening physical locations.

Google may be thought of first as a search engine, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place in retail. After all they have products to sell; like laptops, phones, tablets and Chromecasts. In the future they may also have a reinvented version of Google Glass. With this in mind, they have opened their first “shop in shop”, called The Google Shop, in Curry’s PC World in London.

The Google Shop will allow customers to explore the different devices available from Google and to learn about how the devices work together.

Features of the Google Shop

Just because the Google Shop is a shop within a shop, doesn’t mean it’s a simple mall kiosk where you buy cell phones. The Google Shop experience is a unique, innovative and interactive one.

It features “Portal”, a surround-screen which allows users to explore Google Earth. The “Doodle Wall” lets customers use digital spray cans to paint their own version of a Google logo, which they can then share on social media. The “Chromecast Pod” is a spot for customers to watch movies from Google Play or videos on YouTube. The “Shadowbox” is positioned to be visible from the sidewalk to draw passersby into the store. It shows rotating digital art which highlights local London landmarks.

The Google Shop will also host public events and classes, including Virtual Space Camps which will teach children how to code.


Posted by: Admin AT 10:40 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 04 March 2015

A year later, retailers are reporting positive results from iBeacon campaigns. There are, however, still challenges from the caveats associated with  iBeacons.

Specifically, customers must be iPhone users. They must download the retailers’ app. They must enable Wifi on their phone and opt-in to receive notifications. Many consumers are not willing to opt-in because they have privacy concerns about retailers collecting their data. Physical Cookie gives retailers and their customers the benefits of iBeacons without having to meet all of these requirements.

What is Physical Cookie?

Physical Cookie is a RFID-tag within a piece of plastic, usually on a key-fob,  which retailers can give to their customers as they shop. The customer puts Physical Cookie in their pocket and then has to take no additional steps. Electric readers are then placed around the retail store. The Physical Cookie key-fob collects data in real-time in the same way cookies on websites do (hence the name). Digital screens within the store, show customers advertisements based on their behavior. Customers do not sign up or register, so there are no privacy concerns involved. Physical Cookie has operated in the Citycenter shopping mall in Helsinki, as part of a trial since Fall 2014.

Physical Cookie is easier for the consumer to use than iBeacons. Unlike the Bluetooth technology used for iBeacons, Physical Cookie is always on. Instead of pinging a user’s phone, the actual retail environment reacts to the consumers behavior, which feels much less spammy.

The Physical Cookie Customer Loyalty Program

In the Citycenter trial, a customer loyalty program called VIP-key was launched. The VIP-keys were given to 14,000 randomly selected customers who were then automatically part of a loyalty program, without ever having to opt-in, register, or sign up for anything. The trial was in a shopping center but Physical Cookie has said this can work for both retail chains and for brands working within big-box retailers.

While this trial was conducted using Physical Cookies in a key-fob format, the company said in the future this does not necessarily have to be the case. The key-fob format was selected with the thought process that customers enter the shopping center with their wallet, mobile phone, and keys with them. The average customers wallet is already full of loyalty cards, and mobile phones would require opt-in. The key chain was chosen instead because it does not already have any smart device on it.


  •     The VIP-key cost the equivalent of about two cents in US Dollars.
  •     15% of the VIP-keys were active.
  •     They showed a 14.5% increase in activity between floors.
  •     There a was a 21.7% increase in time spent in the shopping center.

For more information on enhancing your customers’ retail experience, please visit our About page.

Photo Credit: Physical Cookie

Posted by: Admin AT 10:39 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Interactive Customer Experience Association (ICXA) will host its first annual ICX Summit in Chicago on June 29-30, 2015.

Louisville, KY (PRWEB) - Networld Media Group today announces the launch of the Interactive Customer Experience Association (ICXA), which will promote and accelerate the convergence of customer experience technologies and disciplines across all consumer channels.

“The need for ICXA reflects a rising emphasis among brands to create superior customer experiences through multiple technologies,” said Networld Media Group’s CEO, Tom Harper. “Our membership unites professionals from such disciplines as customer experience and service, loyalty, merchandising, marketing, sales, and retail operations.”

Technologies employed by these innovators encompass CRM, POS, digital display, self-service, e- and m-commerce, mobile payment, and much more. ICXA represents a broadening of scope to understand how various technologies can be combined to create unique and unprecedented consumer experiences.

ICXA will host its first annual ICX Summit in Chicago on June 28-30, 2015. Keynote speakers include Blaine Hurst, EVP of Panera Bread and Paul Price, CEO of Creative Realities.

The soon-to-be-launched website will feature a members-only education archive, including videos, webinars and podcasts covering the association’s educational activities. The site will also offer an industry blog and supplier directory.

To jumpstart its launch, ICXA is merging with and absorbing the full membership of the Digital Screenmedia Association (DSA), which had focused previously on the self-service, kiosk, and digital signage technology segments.

“The DSA board is excited about this new direction,” said Bill Lynch, DSA president and new ICXA board member. “The emerging customer experience market encompasses all of our member industries and much more. Our research into market trends and member needs finds most DSA members either expanding into broader customer experience solutions or aligning with partner companies. It became clear that our association must evolve to better serve the expanding needs of our members.”

Existing DSA members will receive full membership in ICXA and enjoy increased benefits with additional learning, networking and peer groups. Technology innovators and suppliers will be invited to participate as instructors in a new online learning series.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Scott Slucher, the new ICXA will continue to expand and develop membership across such industry verticals as banking and payments, retail and restaurant, healthcare, hotel and entertainment, education and government. Slucher brings to his new role many years of professional experience in sales and marketing, digital media, and market research disciplines. His specialty is helping organizations make deeper connections within their industries.

About Networld Media Group

Founded in 2000, Networld Media Group is a leading business-to-business (B2B) media communications company specializing in digital media, associations and events in the mobile, self-service, digital signage, retail, food service and financial services industries. Online properties include,,,,,,,, and The company produces executive summits in the fast casual, retail, ATM and mobile payments industries. Its custom media division develops Web sites, premium content and marketing services for associations such as the ATM Industry Association and the Electronic Funds Transfer Association.

Posted by: New ICXA to promote tech-powered customer experience across all consumer channels AT 08:45 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 10 February 2015

David McCracken
Livewire Digital

Is it just me, or is virtual reality (VR) popping up everywhere? Whether you’re chowing down on pizza or waiting at a bus terminal, interactive VR technology is growing every day. Now, we’re seeing the first smart retail store using this technology.

You might think the Rebecca Minkoff flagship retail store would want the incredible technology it created with partner eBay to be the focal point of the retail space. But it’s precisely the opposite — they made it as subtle as possible.

Reflecting the Future

High-tech touch screen mirrors bring the online world into the physical retail space. At first glance, they look like regular mirrors, until shoppers tap to transform them into touch screen, virtual reality havens.

Shoppers select the pieces and sizes they want to try on and a sales associate will bring the items directly to a changing room. Shoppers receive a text message when their room is ready — hello, omni-channel networks!

One Step Further

The smart changing room takes it even further to enhance the interactive shopping experience. RFID technology allows the self-service software to recognize each item within the room. With one tap on the touch screen mirrors, shoppers can request different sizes, place items into virtual shopping carts, and purchase.

The software also attaches each item tried on and purchased to a shopper’s account. This allows it to make intelligent retail recommendations based on the customer’s taste in the future, further customizing the experience.

Touch Matters

The smart store understands that VR can’t replace the need to physically experience something. We’re seeing this with larger items too, like Audi’s virtual reality car showroom. For as amazing as this interactive technology is, Audi also incorporates samples of interior and exterior finishes for customers to touch.

Having physical samples is important for both large-item retailers and stores with mass customization options. A shoe store, for example, could have one sample pair of shoes with virtual images and physical swatches of all the different materials the style comes in.

Previously, we’ve always looked at an online store as an extension of the physical store, but the smart store flips this idea on its head. eBay views the physical items in the smart store as a manifestation of the online experience. Pretty crazy, right?

What do you think — would you want this technology in your retail experience? Or is this too much, too soon?

Posted by: Admin AT 09:07 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Jessica Glynn
Reality Interactive

Fitting rooms can be one of the most dreaded parts of a shopping trip for the customer. For the retailer it is one of the most important. So how can brands enhance the experience for shoppers? One solution we see popping up is digital mirrors.

According to “Why We Buy” by Paco Underhill, shoppers are twice as likely to buy if they use a dressing room. Dressing room enhancements should be a top priority for retail stores as they make enhancements coming out of the recession. Digital mirrors are just one of the ways retailers can do this. Digital mirrors create an interactive experience for customers. Luxury brands are already testing digital mirrors in their stores.

Neiman Marcus

The MemoMi Memory Mirror is a digital mirror currently being tested in Neiman Marcus department stores. MemoMi allows customers to instantly change the color or the pattern of the outfit they have tried on. They can also try on additional items to complete their outfit virtually using the mirror. The mirror takes 360-degree video, allowing customers to see themselves from every angle. Customers who are shopping alone but would like a second opinion from a friend are able to share a full body still via email or social media. The mirror is controlled by the user either through gestures or through a mobile app.

Neiman Marcus employees have access to the sales associate interface which lets them send recommendations directly to customers from the mirror. Neiman Marcus is the first retailer to use this product, but MemoMi is working with other large retail brands.


Last month Nordstrom added connected mirrors to their Seattle and San Jose locations. The mirrors are located in the fitting rooms and appear to be regular mirrors. However, customers can use the bar code scanner to can the tags of the clothing they bring into the dressing room. The mirror then displays item reviews, and shows what other colors and sizes of the item are in stock. It also shows additional related product recommendations, such as complimentary accessories or shoes.

The customer can use the mirror to request the suggested items be delivered to the dressing room by an associate. The sales associates are alerted via tablets. They can respond to the customers to let them know they are on their way. This message appears right on the mirror.

Rebecca Minkoff

Rebecca Minkoff’s Magic Mirrors in her interactive store, are worth a mention. The touch screens allow customers to change their lighting settings, select different colors or sizes, and to add the items into their online shopping basket.

Final Thoughts

The digital mirrors in these stores aren’t just a cool technology add-on. They all serve a purpose or solve a retail problem. In Neiman Marcus, the sharing feature helps customers who need advice from a friend before they are comfortable making a purchase. In Nordstrom they are used as a communications tool so that sales associates don’t have to stick by the dressing room, but remain accessible to the customer. In Rebecca Minkoff, the lighting settings helps customers who need to know how the outfit will look in real life. The digital mirror in each store offers it’s own unique experience tailored to the brand.

Posted by: Admin AT 08:09 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 20 January 2015

David McCracken
Livewire Digital

Pizza Hut is probably the last place in the world I’d expect to be wowed by technology. Don’t get me wrong, I love sinking my choppers into a stuffed crust as much as the next guy, but there’s not much about the restaurant chain that screams “on the cutting edge of tech.” But I can admit when I’m wrong, and boy was I wrong about this. (Watch this video and you’ll see why.)

The interactive tabletops Pizza Hut is introducing are not only fun and different, they virtually eliminate the major pain points of eating at a restaurant. They remove the annoyance of having a slow server, so you can order your food the instant you’re ready. They also take human error out of the ordering process. No matter how complicated your order, the self-service process nearly ensures it will arrive at your table correctly.

What makes the touch screens so effective is their ability to help customers visualize and customize exactly what they’re ordering. But pizza is not the only place you’re going to start seeing this new technology. Look at all the applications that are going to be happening in other industries:

1. Retail

Soon touch screens will be used like a virtual dressing room in clothing stores. Customers select a model who has a similar body type to theirs and swipe to try out different combinations of clothing styles, sizes, and colors. Then they select the favorite items, head to the register, and a sales associate meets them with their purchases, ready to check out.

2. Hospitality

Soon desks in hotel rooms will double as interactive, self-service concierges. Guests can order room service, wake-up calls, laundry services, and more. They can also browse through information on different restaurants and attractions in the surrounding area and easily make reservations straight through the touch screen software. It’s easy to see how advertising will play a key part in this set up.

3. Tourism

We’re already seeing travel centers using these types of touch screens as giant interactive brochures. Tourists touch and drag on activities, attractions, and hotels from a map onto the calendar to plan out their travel schedules. Since they can be updated in real time, these types of screens often include travel times and prices to give tourists a comprehensive overview of vacations options.

The possibilities are endless with this incredible self-service software. Here’s a restaurant that’s using these tabletops to educate diners about the origins and characteristics of different foods. What creative uses can you see for this technology?

Posted by: Admin AT 09:44 am   |  Permalink   |  
Wednesday, 10 December 2014

By Chris Gilder
CEO and Founder
Meridian Zero Degrees

Identifying market trends has become, well, a “trendy” thing to do. All too often, though, when such movements are discussed in the self-service industry, there is rarely a clear answer to the question of “so what?”

Taking advantage of prevailing developments in any business can be a risky endeavor. Thus, I want to discuss three critical trends in the self-service marketplace and how to capitalize on these, or any, shifting technologies.

Mobile Integration – It's becoming a necessity in self-service to develop solutions with mobile integration in mind. According to new research from Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, more than 60-percent of Americans own a smartphone; that’s staggering! Nearly two-thirds of American consumers have a smart device at the ready.

This trend is only growing. And as consumers become increasingly dependent upon their mobile devices, self-service providers will have to be capable of deploying solutions that are mobile-integrated in order to remain competitive. This is what the market is demanding and will continue to demand.

Omnichannel – Mobile integration is crucial, but it's only part of the picture. Consumers, now more than ever, want the freedom to conduct a transaction at their leisure. Whether it is via a Web browser, on a tablet or personal computer, at a kiosk, at a brick-and-mortar store or through a combination of all of these, creating a seamless consumer experience is becoming vital to the marketing success of all companies.

As a self-service company, we at Meridian know we have to be in touch with this need and provide solutions that will work in an omnichannel landscape. In fact, there may be cases where self-service solution providers will have to lead the way, guiding companies to an understanding of the necessity of creating a consistent omnichannel experience for their customers. We must be equipped to lead as solutions providers.

Interfacing with New Technologies – Webopedia defines interface as "a boundary across which two independent systems meet and act on or communicate with each other." We're all familiar with user interfaces (UI) like the keyboard or the mouse and with graphical user interfaces (GUI) like Windows or iOS.

Moving forward, our industry will be increasingly shaped by interfacing with new technologies like Bluetooth, facial recognition, character recognition, and others. Understanding how these technologies benefit clients and end users is paramount to any self-service company’s success. Collaborating with partners that grasp these new interfacing technologies makes for widespread innovation; and with innovation comes thoughtful, managed solutions that are good for everyone.

Ideas plus analytics equal a win-win - Now that we know the critical trends shaping our industry, what’s next? How are we to gauge risk versus reward when it comes to capitalizing on trends that may, or may not, take hold in the self-service marketplace?

In my experience, there are two critical components needed to gauge risk versus reward.

First, there must be thoughtful and well-planned proofs of concept that lead to pilot projects. Second, there has to be a plan to collect and measure data. Without these components, a solution provider is no better than a pilot flying an airplane without navigation. There is no way for him to know what is up or down – no information guiding him to the place he needs to go.

Without measurable indicators as to what works and what doesn’t, there is no way to say to a company, "Here is a successful solution to your problem," because no one knows if it is or isn’t. When trying to capitalize on shifting trends, capturing empirical data is vital – it's vital to the self-service solution provider, to the success of its clients, and, ultimately, to the satisfaction of the end user. When we carefully plan proofs of concepts, deploy pilots and measure data, we create a win-win-win scenario instead of wasting time and resources for all parties.

Navigating the landscape of the self-service industry is not easy. None of us can predict the future. But, we don’t have to be soothsayers to be successful. Recognizing trends, testing well-planned ideas, measuring successes and failures with analytics – these are the means by which we can create a winning environment for all stakeholders. 

Posted by: Admin AT 10:55 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 29 October 2014

By Jason Shave
Sales Manager
RMG Networks

As a salesperson, I spend a lot of time traveling to the reception areas of numerous companies in various industries. I am constantly amazed at how ‘vanilla’ and unassuming many are – surely a reception area is the place to showcase the company’s attributes and act as the pulse of their professional significance. Should I not expect to be engaged, wowed or learn something during my visitor experience?  Do first impressions no longer count?


Cast your mind back and think about the last 10 reception areas you visited. My guess is that many, if not all, were slightly outdated from a technological perspective.  They probably had a tiny TV mounted in the most ridiculous place possible, showing BBC or CNN or possibly just a blank screen, which even if it was turned on would have given you neck strain anyway. So what did you really learn about those 10 companies whilst sitting in their reception area waiting? Would very little be a safe assumption?

Now visualize the same reception areas with a large, multiscreen intelligent signage video wall installed and split into different zones. This would bring the space up-to-date with color, graphics and information, rendering the reception area in line with brand image, identity and visitor expectations. Companies could display their own real-time data and information, share price, employee engagement messages, social media feeds, green credentials, case studies, customer facing messages and more. All of a sudden, the company goes from being the same old tired and unexciting corporate mogul to a relatable, current and zestful company that people want to work for and/or do business with.


Simply put, it’s a message. Compelling visual signage says this is a company that embraces advancements in technology and other future trends; that they’re an engaging company as seen by their employees’ messages and also by your own engagement as a bystander getting more acquainted with the company. Business decision makers could even perceive the company as being ahead of the curve and want to associate their own business with one like that.

I like to think of a video wall as being a canvas to the possible, a window into real-time information and eye candy, where the viewer is visually engaged through the clever mix of data and content. When done right, the return on investment is instant.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:47 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 21 October 2014

By David McCracken
Livewire Digital

I don’t know about you, but it seems every time I’ve been in a Starbucks over the last few weeks, it seems like everyone is scanning their smartphone instead of paying with cash. The retail world is moving so quickly towards convenient technology solutions like these, and it’s showing no sign of slowing down. Craig W. Smith, founder of the New Channels Department at London retail giant Marks & Spencer, gave his predictions for the five pretty incredible in-store retail technology trends we will see in the next year. (Original source:

 1. First payment by smart watch

Smart Watch

Smart watch payment…because reaching into your pocket or purse is too much effort (not!) Smith predicts we will move beyond paying with cash, credit cards, or even smartphones, to paying with your wrist wear. The smart watch will establish itself as a credible payment instrument.

2. First Google Glass in-store retail applications

Google Glass

Google Glass applications are popping up in the medical and hospitality industries, and retail will soon join them. Retailers will offer applications like customer recognition, personalized concierge services and pick, pack & dispatch.

3. Personalized targeting with beacon technology

Beacon technology

Smith says retailers will start to engage customers with location-based personalized targeting. When customers enter a certain geographic range, retailers can send targeted promotions straight to their mobile phones.

 4. Pay and go using your mobile

Pay as you go

Have you been in a grocery store that allows you to scan your items as you put them into your cart? Picture the same thing…but with your smartphone. In the next 12 months, retail stores will trial software that allows customers to scan items as they shop and pay on their phones before exiting the store.

 5. Payment on shop floor will move from trial to full-scale rollout

Shop Floor payment

Some retailers are currently taking payments on devices like iPads, but mobile payment is definitely not without its challenges. Over the next 12 months, Smith predicts that hardware and solution providers will fix these problems, which will lead to more and more retailers adopting them. Mobile payments will move from proof-of-concept ideas into fully-fledged rollouts.

In which of these trends do you see the most potential? What other tech predictions do you have for the next 12 months?

Posted by: Admin AT 03:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Ryan Lepianka
Creative Director
Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc.

There is a fascination with studying Millennials since they are a cradle-to-grave digital generation and the heirs to vast purchasing power as their Baby Boomer parents pass the consumer torch. There are some noteworthy contrasts, and marketers should be asking what they need to do to change their stores and products.  

Because Millennials have grown up with a variety of mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops, they are considered by some researchers to be more adept at task switching than older generations. Nielsen’s 2012 State of the Media Report identifies characteristics like multi-sensory processing power and response to intense color palettes when comparing Millennials to their Boomer parents.

In planning for marketing to Millennials at retail, younger people may respond positively to more vibrant graphics and interactivity, but there is still a commonality of experience that requires in-store merchandising not to lose sight of the fundamentals.

In the end, the human animal doesn’t change much. We are all looking for a path to an ideal, especially when we’re young. On one level or another we are often searching for a way to become what we perceive to be ‘more than we currently are’.

For example, I’m going to purchase the pair of headphones that costs $100 more than the next pair if it has been effectively communicated to me, that if I purchase THIS product, in some way, I am receiving some of that famous rapper’s DNA. In making this purchase, I am now ‘more’. This purchase is a step on the journey to actualizing my ideal in a real, tactile way.

As designers, we’re most successful when we design a retail piece that sets the stage for that kind of transference. We utilize the most appropriate technology available to extend that offer in a way that breaks through the noise, to make that offer to ‘become’ heard and understood.

I’m curious what you think. Perhaps we’re turning up certain tactical elements of marketing and merchandising to appeal to a younger, purely digital generation while acknowledging some universal common aspirations.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:06 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 23 September 2014

by Joe Holley
Frank Mayer & Associates, Inc.

Millennials are as large a demographic group as their Baby Boomer parents and their presence is already felt at retail. Their power to purchase and influence is on the rise.

Despite having lived through the Great Recession and carrying an average of $25,000 in student loan debt, Millennials’ $600 billion of spending is projected to increase to $1.4 trillion by 2020. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is naturally interested in this economically powerful group and concludes they will “completely upend many of the established businesses, methods, and processes that have defined the U.S. Public and private sectors for decades.”

This generation is moving at a pace that legacy retailers are hard-pressed to keep up with. The physical store is still the focus of the vast majority of sales, but there is a plodding but undeniable “any channel” transformation being influenced by Millennials’ desire for shopping without boundaries.

Besides renovating disparate technology platforms, what are retailers doing to court this powerful, ascending generation? Their responses include changes to format, visual merchandising, product displays, digital signage, interactive shopping experiences, location-based mobile communication and targeted product offerings.

Take for example, Macy’s, which is incorporating many of these strategies. They’ve developed apps and installed Wi-Fi. They’re using Shopkick and testing iBeacon for location-based in-store offers. They’re integrating interactive technology into numerous departments to satisfy expectations for immediacy, access and engagement with fresh content. Localized product assortments catering to specific Millennial sub-segments are a part of their merchandising strategy. So committed to this target is Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren that he has breakfast monthly with a group of Millennial employees to get their feedback.

There are numerous other examples of retail transformation in our latest whitepaper Succeeding with Millennials as well as a list of implications for marketing to Millennials that emerge from vast amounts of research being conducted on them:

  • Embrace the multi-channel mindset by catering to expectations for relevancy and accessibility that are rooted in online experience.
  • Create store environments that merge physical and digital elements.
  • Create environments that are vibrant and dynamic.
  • Balance deal-oriented incentives with exceptional experiences in order to win hearts and pocketbooks.
  • Develop marketing and merchandising plans that incorporate multi-directional engagement.
  • Incorporate opportunities for validating purchase decisions through peers and ratings/reviews.

I’m sure you have others to add.

Posted by: Admin AT 01:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 02 September 2014

Kelly Eisel
Industry Weapon

Brand advocates are easily the knights of the branding chess board. Versatile enough to reach the audiences regular marketing can’t; they are key players well worth your time and effort. Armed with one of the most powerful weapons of our time, the internet, advocates can create a tidal wave of buzz around a brand in few simple clicks. Their good reviews are marketing gold. In fact, 90% of consumers believe Internet recommendations are the most credible persuasion when purchasing a product or service(1)

How Do You Get Customers to Advocate Your Brand?

So people seem to like your brand: Your products are trustworthy and you’ve trained your employees to have great customer service skills. You market your sales and special events, but you still can’t seem to create a special connection between your customers and your brand. While customers may spend money on your products and services, they aren’t compelled to talk about it.

To create conversations about your brand, you need to be innovative and unique. 60% of consumers feel more positively about a company after reading custom content on their sites or #digital displays. (2) Digital signage incorporates endless options for viewer engagement. One of the top three reasons consumers will follow a brand on social media is for interesting content.(3) Digital signage is a medium that can provide interesting content that reaches every shopping persona.  Instead of using static marketing to relay one or two messages about your brand, digital signage plays dynamic content and integrates social media applications. Therefore, campaigns can be designed to target specific shoppers at specific times of the day.

Select the Right Promoters

Once you’ve engaged and engrossed potential advocates with your dynamic digital media, you can start deciding who is worthy of being your brand cheerleader. Keep this in mind: the entire world can love your brand, but they don’t all have to be your advocates. Choose a couple influential members (with lots of appropriate followers) to can reach your targeted audience with the correct messages.

3 Ways Digital Signage Can Help You Retain Your Advocates

Once the relationship is solidified, put together a program to thank, reward, and maintain your advocate. Don’t make this a campaign, campaigns don’t last; make this an ongoing program. Longevity is good for a relationship, after all. Have an entire plan for the program so that you can identify how you and your advocate will both get what you want for the entire length of the program.

1.) Give ‘Em Publicity: An easy way to show appreciation is to display advocate-generated content on your digital signage. With Instagram and social media integrations, your advocates can become your models.

2.) Keep It Exclusive: Interactive Kiosks are a fantastic way to keep your advocates engaged and coming back for more. Implement a reward system for exclusive offers that only advocates can access via the kiosks. Hashtags for reward points!

3.) Contribute Together: Donate to charity on behalf of your advocates. Create an ‘Advocate of the Month (or Week)’ system that will honor a select member. Then your brand can donation in their name to a nonprofit organization. Their picture and donation can be displayed on your digital signage.

Marketing for sales doesn’t cut it anymore. Consumers need a fellow shopper with an opinion that they can trust.  Obtaining, choosing, and keeping your advocates might seem intimidating at first, but with digital signage, the integrations practically do all the work for you. By making sure the content around your brand is dynamic and interesting, you’ll start conversations that will lead to recommendations.  

1: Ciceron, 2: Ciceron, 3: Ciceron

Posted by: Admin AT 02:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 21 July 2014


David Anzia
Senior Vice President - Sales
Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc.

Tablets have been touted as “reinventing” and “revolutionizing” retail. Retailers and consumer-facing businesses have been testing the use of tablets to gain operational and marketing advantages, and they like the results. Here are some ways retailers are getting big impact out of small screens.

Brand Collaboration

In some cases brands have joined forces with key retailers to test tablet kiosks.
Target is reported to have tested iPads loaded with product content from Johnson and Johnson’s BabyCenter parenting website in baby departments of 10 Illinois stores. The test initiated in 2013 also included trained staff members with the aim of providing a more specialty store type of experience for new parents.

Engagement Tools

Tablets can also improve the process of trying on clothes either by providing convenient access to inventory for additional size, style and color options or virtual mannequin software that lets shoppers try a look digitally. They can also be tools for social feedback.

The flagship store of London retailer Karl Lagerfeld has installed iPads in dressing rooms to allow shoppers to take selfie photos with their clothing finds to send to friends.

Product Creation Stations

Tablet touchscreens provide a functionality that allows shoppers to try out design options and get creative. A number of athletic shoe brands like Puma and Nike have incorporated tablet customization into their retail strategies. To add impact to the experience a digital signage connection allows customers to show their creations to a wider in-store audience.


Tablets can replace paper signage. In fast changing categories this means up-to-the-minute product information. They give retailers the ability to cater to sophisticated shoppers who want detailed product specifications for high-end purchases like electronics, creative content for categories like fashion or pairings and source of origin for food.

Kate Spade has replaced paper signs with iPads placed strategically throughout the store to display product information and relevant content. Part of that content will be user-generated images designed to increase dwell time.

POS Devices

Using tablet at restaurantRetailers who are using tablets for checkout appreciate their multi-functionality.  They can accommodate inventory checking, ordering, product information and sales associate training.

The IHL Group reports (Mobile POS: Hype to Reality, May 2013) that tablets have been most popular as POS devices with independent retailers and mall-based specialty chains. Falling into neither of those categories, Whole Foods Market plans to expand checkout locations in several of its stores by testing tablet checkout stands at fresh sandwich and coffee stations.

There’s so much more to launching a tablet program than just choosing a tablet and an enclosure. Our latest whitepaper Using Tablets to Transform Retail Experience can walk you through all of the considerations that go into planning a successful program.

Posted by: Admin AT 08:15 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 16 July 2014

David McCracken
Livewire Digital


Hi, my name is David, and I’m a Disney-holic.

My family and I have been going to Disney World almost every year since my kids were young. Now that my grown kids aren’t “kids” anymore, we experience the parks in different ways but still love it just as much. On our family Disney trip last month, we couldn’t stop talking about the newest technology advancement that was included in our experience.

Disney’s MagicBands are light, colorful bracelets that make the whole guest experience seamless and simple. They were developed as part of Disney’s billion-dollar MyMagic+ interactive technology system and take customer engagement to a new level.

Let me tell you, if anyone knows omni-channel engagement, it’s Disney.

Inside each MagicBand is a microchip that acts as your interactive key to the parks. Your bracelet grants admission when you wave it over a ticketing reader at the park gate. It saves your place in line for attractions — that’s Fast Pass to you Disney veterans — and your reservations at restaurants. It can let you into your Disney hotel room, keep track of your pictures taken by park photographers, and be used as a charge card to make purchases. It even activates the Sorcerers of Magic Kingdom, an interactive game played at the park.

As someone who can’t even count the number of times my kids lost a hotel room key or FastPass ticket, I see how valuable MagicBands are in easing the stresses and hassles of a family vacation!

The magic behind MagicBands is Radio Frequency, or RF, technology. This is the same tech used with keyless car entries, credit cards, and wireless video game controllers. MagicBands also connect with Disney’s existing interactive software (website, mobile apps, etc.), creating a true omni-channel network.

I couldn’t help but think of ways this technology could be used to bring the customer experience together in many different industries:


    track preferred customer programs
    offer special discounts
    make restaurant reservations
    monitor pre-purchase or early-bird access


    store patient identities/histories
    grant approval for services/privileges
    track process through the system
    schedule appointments


    grant access to rooms
    book reservations at local attractions
    track loyalty programs
    interact with kiosk software to bring up previous search histories

The sky’s truly the limit with this technology. And would you expect anything less from Disney? What other uses can you see for RF technology like this?

Posted by: Admin AT 11:24 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 17 June 2014

By Bill Bishop
Chief Architect

Stuart Armstrong was pushing the boundaries of using POS data at IRI to understand shopping behavior when I first met him. Today he’s pushing the boundaries of using digital screens to communicate with shoppers inside stores at ComQi.* In between, he developed multi-channel marketing strategies for the consumer goods and retail industries.

I think he has important things to say about where we’re going with the technology-enhanced shopping experience, which changes in the retail environment are most transformative, and how retailers and brands are using interactive screens to build customer relationships.

You’ve spent a long time at the intersection of retail and communications media. How would you describe where we are today?

A lot of the things we’re doing today with omni-channel, big data, technology, millions of dollars, and many hours are taking us back to the future – back to something retailers used to know how to do very well. It’s taking us back to the intimacy of customer service that retailers used to offer.

Back in the day, Sam the grocer might stand on the sidewalk beside his nice-looking produce. When Mrs. Smith walked by with little Patty, he knew what she’d bought, what she liked and disliked, and even that what flavor of penny candy her daughter preferred. It was a great customer relationship. It was personal. He knew her needs and he met her needs. And she talked with her friends about Sam the grocer, the original social media.

Then we moved to the other end of the spectrum with individual consumers. Broadcast media came on the scene, and we went through a bubble. Brands and advertisers developed a theory of reach and frequency, and they built a whole economic structure around mass media: Bombard enough people with messages and the small percentage of individuals that responds will be enough.

Today, we’re trying to get back to the level of intimacy we used to have with individual customers. We may be using technology to get there, but in the end, retail is a high-touch story, not a high-tech story.  We’re using purchase histories and data analysis to re-establish relevance and recency. The more we can relate to consumers at a specific time with relevant information, the greater share of mind we gain and the greater the opportunity to influence purchases.

Which recent developments in retail strike you as most important?

There’s been a tsunami of change in the past 5 years. I think these three are important to recognize.

1. BYOD (bring your own device). Smartphones have spread far and wide in the last 5 years, and 40% of shoppers want to use their device while they are in the store – to compare prices, to scan QR codes, to look up alternatives. It’s changed the in-store experience, and now that people can shop anytime, anyplace, retailers and brands need to be present in the digital space as well.

2. The endless aisle concept. Retailers are trying to do more with less – offer more variety, greater selection, better experiences, but with less square footage. This means smaller on-site inventory and fewer back shelves. The endless aisle enables retailers to say “Sure, we can get that for you” and deliver fast.

3. The potential for technology and data to underpin greater levels of customer service. Frequent shopper programs have mostly delivered a sea of discounts. It degrades the brand and takes away the intimacy. There’s huge potential to use technology to improve customer service.

Powerful synergies arise from these developments. Check-in, for example, is a huge opportunity that touches on at least two of them. Say you go to the big electronics store to buy a smartphone and check in by swiping your device. And say check-in triggers the ability of the sales associate to call up your purchase history. The associate will understand your needs better, and you’re going to get much better service. Using technology and data to deliver customer service like this can bring retailers closer to the kind of relationship Sam the grocer had with his customers. Using it just to push promotions doesn’t create the same kind of intimacy or trust, and the more our customers trust us, the more information they will be willing to share.

What do these changes mean for product brands?

Brands are building stronger presence in stores using the “store within a store” concept. Fashion brands have done this for years in department stores, and CPG and cosmetics brands do it in grocery and drug stores mainly with displays, but brands are branching out into other venues now.

Remember that smartphone purchase? The last time I bought a smartphone, my sales associate walked me over to the manufacturer’s display and introduced me to Sally. “Sally will show you how to use your phone,” he said, and for the next 20 minutes Sally did exactly that. Sally works for the manufacturer, and she was servicing, not selling – but because she was servicing, she was selling.  (Sometimes brands are delivering this kind of service via kiosk or screen.)

Brands used to print and send out mass mailings and figure that ½ to 1 percent of people would trip over them and buy.  Now they’re starting to target stores where they have particular opportunities to grow sales and investing larger amounts of money in those locations. 
You talk about the importance of screen-rich environments. What do you mean?

Screen-rich environments are playing a big part in the increasingly interactive store shopping experience.

  •     “Public screens” deliver one-to-many messages. You find these on the aisle, over the aisle, or even worked into the décor as part of the millwork; they don’t have to be a screen on a stick.  
  •     “Private screens” deliver one-to-one messages and are the best vehicle for customer service. These are the mobile phone screens of individual shoppers, where they can download information and receive personalized offers, support or instruction.

Some screens can do double duty. My company recently helped roll out a digital price board in the automotive service sector that doubles as a “video on demand” screen. Remember Mrs. Smith? Imagine she comes in for an oil change and notices the price difference between synthetic and regular oil and asks about it. Her sales associate might or might not know the answer, but now he or she can use the same sign to show her a 90-second video that explains the difference. Now Mrs. Smith gets the answers she needs to make a decision from a credible source. This would be a powerful tool for many areas within grocery and drug store environments such as health/pharmacy, organics and even the wine department. By the way, it's important to note, that supporting sales in this manner has dramatic effects in increasing sales and trading up the purchase.

Finally, screens can now interact with each other – which means that Mrs. Smith can download the video explaining the difference between synthetic and regular oil to take home and discuss with her husband, and not just in English. If the household is Hispanic why not furnish the information in Spanish? Another example of delivering better customer service that results in increased sales and shopper loyalty.

Which retailers are doing the best job with screen interactivity?

Burberry’s High Street store in London is one of the best. They’ve created an entirely new shopping environment. They can even create a rainstorm to inspire shoppers to buy a raincoat.

There’s a similarly great use of digital screens in the Victoria Secret Harold Square store in New York that includes a 3-story video wall and screen synchronization following the shopper up and down the escalators. (In the interest of transparency, that’s our technology.)

What do you see on the horizon?

More wearables. Google Glass is a prototype, but heads-up display will evolve and wearables will become more common. And more augmented reality, where you can place your phone over a digital or static menu item and it will tell you about calories and nutritional value. Digital signage will serve up targeted content and mobile with will deliver a lot of the information people want without having to print it on a label or a menu or a shelf tag.

*ComQi is a global leader providing a cloud-based Shopper Engagement Technology that influences consumers at the point of decision, in-store, using all digital touch-points: digital signage, mobile, video, touch, web, and social networks. ComQi’s mission is to deliver an end-to-end solution that is tailored to engage consumers by optimizing communications and marketing strategies that provide the best ROI. Learn more about them at, follow them on Twitter and Facebook, or visit their YouTube channel.

Posted by: Admin AT 03:20 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 30 May 2014

Matt Schmitt
President & Founder
Reflect Systems


Today’s brands are more focused than ever on adapting to consumer lifestyles and delivering a branded experience that resonates with their audience. The importance of well-executed brand media increasingly puts all brands, including retailers, in the content game.

Reflect In-Store Digital SignageMarketing’s role in retail is shifting from advertising to brand storytelling. In the past, the driving force of many marketing strategies was to use print and broadcast to get customers out of the home and into the store. Customer segments were focused on demographics using age, gender and location. In this traditional “push” model, the idea was to reach a captive audience and deliver them a message, with the goal of influencing a transaction.

Today, marketing is about creating a brand media network that spans a variety of engagement channels. We’re not simply trying to get customers to a location. We want them to create a lasting connection with the brand and adopt it as part of their lifestyle. Moving beyond demographics, psychographics focuses on behaviors, interests and lifestyle. And rather than a push model, brands are pursuing an engagement model that creates a two-way dialogue between them and the customer.

Everywhere, All The Time

Reflect In-Store Digital Media

Brands are becoming more omni-focused, with content executed across a variety of channels, from the digital world to physical locations. The brand media should be consistent and adapted to suit the channel type.  

1. Broadcast is still a major platform for all brand media. Broadcast is still primarily about traditional television, but the landscape is shifting rapidly. YouTube is becoming a big player for brand media, with strong appeal for the brand. The ability to better target audiences and track engagement is key. And brands are able to tell more of their story with longer form content and media that moves beyond the 30-second spot. 

2. Social Media is a fast-moving target. It’s easier to think less in terms of the individual applications, and more in terms of a communications network with a shifting landscape of providers. Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and others provide new ways of engagement and require new methods of branding. 

3. Mobile is increasingly becoming synonymous with online, and commerce transactions are shifting away from the desktop pc and retail website to an untethered, app-centric world. Mobile apps are about personal empowerment and enabling relevance in time and place.

4. In-Store is where all of the engagement channels can be brought together to create an impactful brand experience that can create deep engagement with the customer. The physical location presents a powerful platform for telling the brand story in a contextually relevant way.

The Art Of The Happening

Going to a physical store to shop is an event. To use an analogy, it’s like going to a movie theater instead of watching at home. Sure, there’s the instant gratification that comes from going to the location to “get it now”. But there’s more to the theater than exclusivity. The venues, at least the better ones, provide an experience. It’s an event and a happening.

Shoppers who “check in” to a physical store via social media aren’t simply looking for a coupon or offer. Often they are saying “Hey, look…I’m doing something. I’m out there in the world, taking action.” But are they being treated to a feeling of excitement by the brand experience and given reinforcement that what they’re doing is interesting? In other words, did they arrive at a location, or at an event?

The Audience As Participants

In the age of the connected customer, the audience for brand media is not passive. Because of their affinity for empowerment and communications, they are able to be active participants in the new media.

For a compelling example of brand media engagement, take a look at the recent campaign by the fast fashion retailer Uniqlo. To promote their new line of t-shirts, a multi-channel experience was created to engage the customers as brand media participants.

uniqlo store 

A purpose-built mobile app was created for the campaign. The app allows customers to create two-second video clips showing them with their new Uniqlo t-shirt and “showing off their moves”. The app is promoted in the store, with a small stage area set up with lights and a backdrop. Customers can shoot their video (either in-store or elsewhere) and can post it to social media and to a special microsite set up by the brand at The user-generated content is also showcased in the store as montages on digital signage video-walls.

In the post-advertising age, the most effective brand media content can go beyond storytelling, and into customer participation. Brands are now finding ways to move audiences to participate in the storytelling process.

The Store Is Still The Star

For most retailers, the store is the ultimate manifestation of the brand. It’s the place where customers are fully engaged with the brand. And while it’s still the moment of truth for creating transactions, it’s also the time and place for creating a deeper connection with the customer.

Many retail brands have great mobile apps, websites, YouTube channels and social media. But there is often a lack of awareness of these touchpoints. This awareness gap can be bridged by more effectively leveraging the store to tell the brand story, and to let the customer know all the ways they can engage the brand further after leaving the store.

Posted by: Admin AT 11:12 am   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  
Tuesday, 27 May 2014

By Tracy Robertson - ADFLOW Networks

It’s no surprise that interactive kiosks are popping up all over the retail landscape. Digital interactive kiosks offer innovative ways to interact with your customers, reach target audiences efficiently and thrive in today’s competitive marketplace.

Here are 5 ways interactive kiosks can work for your business:

#1 Help your customers find the right product

Interactive kiosks can help your customers zero in on the right product quickly and easily. Whether its selecting the right pillow, choosing a kids car seat, picking the right GPS system, kiosks can help customers to self-educate and select the right product for their needs without sales assistance. Many customers actually prefer to shop in this fashion without the need to interact with sales people.

#2 Facilitate customer sales efficiently

Interactive kiosks make an excellent sales assistant tool for your customer service representatives. For example, if a customer has a question about a specific product, such as a cell phone, a sales person can lead them over to the interactive kiosk and direct them to the product they are specifically interested in. Simply by touching the screen or scanning a product, the customer can learn about pricing, view different colour options, find buying guides and compare products on the spot. Interactive kiosks supplement the service from your sales person and provide customers with the information they need even when a sales assistant is not immediately available to help.

#3 Reduce "walk-outs"

By keeping your customers engaged, they are less likely to leave the store while waiting for a sales representative to become available. Traffic volumes vary greatly in retail. When customers flood the store, interactive kiosks can begin the education and sales process until sales personnel are free.

#4 Interact with customers in unique ways

As a two-way interaction, interactive kiosks offer a more engaging way to connect with your customers through edutainment or infotainment, such as interactive contests and quizzes. If a customer is looking for a particular product, such as the right pillow for sleeping, a quiz can be useful to help them narrow down the best choice according to their responses. When it comes to answering personal questions, some customers may also prefer the anonymity of the interactive kiosk to answering personal questions posed by a sale person.

#5 Learn about your customers

The data gathered through our interactive kiosks provides our clients with market intelligence on the success of their promotions. It’s possible to see what pages customers engage with and how long they spend on each screen, helping you measure the success of the user experience. You can also track the impact of content changes on the success of the kiosk. Even small changes to content can have a profound impact on user activity.

Simple customer surveys can provide powerful insights into what brought the customer into the store, demographics and product preferences. With customer information and kiosk interaction tracking, the opportunities for continuous learning and improvements are endless.

Provided by ADFLOW Networks

Posted by: Admin AT 01:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Joe Holley
VP New Business Development
Frank Mayer & Associates

Mizuno Golf DisplayShoppers are bringing a set of expectations and a cache of knowledge gleaned from online research through the doors of stores like never before.  New consumer behaviors have impacted especially categories like electronics, books, clothing, household goods and sporting equipment. Numerous studies of multi-channel shoppers make it clear that online research doesn‘t lead just to online purchases. There are plenty of occasions when the store has the final influence on purchase decision.

Increasingly the in-store experience will incorporate tools like touchscreens, digital signage and mobility, but ask any retailer or brand and they will say that merchandising and point-of-purchase displays where the product is the hero are integral to conveying information and making an impression. Products that are prominently and expertly displayed can be a call to action, whether that action is immediate or takes some alternate path.

So what should retailers and brands focus on to create the maximum amount of impact from a display? Here are some of the tips from the pros that are encapsulated in our latest POP guide, Traditional Merchandising in the Age of Self-Service.

Linda Hofflander, director of vertical marketing with the enterprise business division of Samsung:

People get bombarded with signage, and sometimes it’s what is unique or a little bit of a surprise that can be most effective

David Anzia, vice president of sales at Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc.:

With customers already armed with so much pre-purchase information, retailers have the ability to utilize less copy on their displays. The marketer is able to simplify their message, content copy and photos to distract the customer.

Kevin Lyons, senior vice president of e-commerce with h.h.gregg:

A customer wants to know the most important ways the product will help them, not just everything it does or can do. For example a ‘super radiant heating element’ on a stovetop means nothing to the average consumer, but ‘boils water in 60 seconds’ does! Traditional signage takes on a new role in today’s retail environment as it relates to supporting the mobile customer, those that are researching as well as comparing/reinforcing their purchases.

Dean Cole, brand support manager Mizuno, USA:

If the display can help communicate the benefits of the product and help the consumer visualize how those benefits will improve their experience, the odds of that product being chosen are improved greatly.

Ryan Lepianka, creative director at Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc.:

Having the ability to touch a product and make a connection with it can beat nearly any other way of selling, and some of the most effective displays the company has designed are those that encourage physical contact.

Posted by: Admin AT 04:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 02 April 2014

David Anzia
Frank Mayer & Associates

Consumers today face an almost unlimited array of media and merchandise to compete for their time and resources. According to a recent Nielsen Newswire, Americans’ retail trip frequency has decreased by 15 percent over the last six years, while basket size has only increased by 9 percent. This is a trend that cuts across income levels and has implications for a wide range of retailers.

With shoppers visiting stores less frequently and ever present competition, retailers have their work cut out for them to attract customers to their stores and increase their dwell time. With hyper-connected shoppers, there’s much thought and discussion about interactive in-store experiences, but a recent visit by a colleague to the flagship store of Whole Foods Market reinforced the importance of visual merchandising and store ambiance to retail experience.  

Retailers have a lot of competing demands and a whole host of touchpoints that didn’t exist a decade ago, but they can’t lose sight of the power that physical design and in-store merchandising have on customer experience. Whole Foods Market is not a current client, but as an in-store merchandising company serving a mix of retailers and brands across a variety of categories, we admire the way Whole Foods has carried out its philosophy to create store environments that are “inviting and fun, and reflect the communities they serve”.

As much as any retailer can, Whole Foods embodies the notion that stores aren’t simply places to buy things; you can buy things--even groceries—online.   Careful planning of every detail naturally occurs when company headquarters sits atop your store, as it does in the heart of Austin, and the effect is awe inducing, a retail feast for the senses.

The Austin flagship is an example of store as destination – a concept that can maintain the health of physical retail. The store itself is large, but each department is, in fact, a destination made manageable and engaging by display materials that reinforce a natural, wholesome, clean positioning and ample, friendly, sometimes whimsical, signage that reflects the Whole Foods brand.

The Austin venue is more than a market, it is a social center with outdoor dining that draws people off the street and multiple indoor food bars that invite people to linger and interact. It has the feel of a community hub.

Reflective of its location in a music-loving city where even the airport has live musicians, it is an entertainment venue that attracts people and invites them to stay. The store contains a live stage; where on a Friday afternoon musicians were setting up to usher patrons into weekend mode.

Common design elements are a necessity for all chains, but Whole Foods strives for product and visual connections that reinforce a local feel. The local ambiance is reinforced in part by a neon “Love Austin” sign hanging above merchandise that celebrates the city. In Detroit, for example, it is reflected in Motown 45-LP records that adorn the checkout lane markers. These are elements that might appeal to civic pride and spark a little allegiance in an era when it is harder to come by.

Not every retailer can be Whole Foods Market, but every retailer should be focused on the elements that ensure that physical stores are places of discovery and delight and can instill some sense of loyalty so we are enticed to get out from behind our screens, loosen our pocketbooks and experience retail with all our senses and some of our emotions.

Posted by: Admin AT 08:54 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 04 February 2014

Laura Miller
Director of Marketing

Usability can make or break the success of any new website, application, or software. Also known as the UI (user interface) or UX (user experience), usability refers to the user's ability to successfully navigate a product in the manner intended to accomplish the desired tasks. There are entire industries built around better understanding these experiences, from optimizing a website checkout process to encouraging users to visit a particular page. These research industries use buzzwords like Voice of the Customer, Consumer Obsession, and User Experience Advocate and they staunchly advocate that nothing be deployed without an extensive cycle of research, testing, revision and testing.

Why usability testing?

Why is usability testing so necessary? While the layout, process, verbiage and navigation of a website, program or application may make sense to those involved in the design, they don't always seem so obvious to the user. Age, technical savvy, and education may play a role in how a user navigates, but so too may cultural differences, intended goal, and fresh eyes. Knowing your user, and their abilities, goals, and environment are key components to creating a successful product.

Why does UX matter?

Why should we care about User Experience? Self-service kiosks are responsible for setting up a user's experience with a brand. There are many moving parts in a kiosk deployment. Three that come to mind from the start include: hardware, application/program, and lockdown software. Watching how these things work together to make for a comprehensive user experience is an important component to a successful and enjoyable user experience.

Kiosk usability fail

Here's one example of how a kiosk deployment can fail (and yet, still "succeed") in a restaurant environment. The waiter, in this example, finds a workaround for a system that is not serving their needs. It's a must read for any naysayers of usability testing and observation as a means of testing and refining software. According to the author, "Computer systems are not always used as the developers suppose." As evident in this example, computer systems are not always used as the developers intended, nor as they would hope. More importantly, a complicated system is not always the answer.

The only way to know how users will interact with your kiosk is to observe them via lab controlled usability testing and in-field studies. In addition to traditional observation techniques, technologies such as heat mapping and eye tracking can also be used to better understand the user experience. Kiosk software with server capabilities can also assist in gathering usage statistics. In future posts, we'll identify common usability errors, solutions, and research methods.

Are you observing your kiosk in action? Does your client allow time for testing? What is your favorite example of something you discovered (and corrected) through usability testing?

Posted by: Admin AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 21 January 2014

By Jon Stine
Director, Internet Business Solutions Group
Retail-Consumer Products
Cisco Systems

Trust. It’s a powerful human emotion that often drives our behavior. The level of trust, or lack thereof, between a retailer and its customers can literally make or break the business. Given the importance of trust, many retailers are asking: How much do customers trust retailers? What are the benefits of increasing trust? How do retailers gather the information needed to provide the  personalized experiences many customers want, while maintaining and even building trusted relationships?

These questions are especially important given the critical juncture at which we find ourselves—the convergence of people, process, data, and things called the Internet of Everything (IoE).

To help retailers build customer trust in an increasingly digitally connected world, Cisco Consulting Services surveyed 1,174 consumers in its fourth annual Digital Shopping Behavior survey.* From a behavior perspective, shoppers are becoming more digital. In fact, eighty percent of respondents are what we call Digital Mass shoppers—people who research, browse, and purchase digitally. Within this group, Über Digitals, who almost always use a smartphone to shop, increased from 11 percent last year to 18 percent this year. Clearly, your customers are digital.

Before we discuss “how,” it is important to understand “why.” Our research showed $100 billion of IoE value was available for retailers in the United States to capture in 2013 by offering more personalized shopping experiences. If you missed your share, don’t worry. This number is expected to increase slightly in 2014. Realizing this value, however, isn’t easy.

When it comes to trust, retailers are starting from a low base. When asked, “How much would you trust these companies/institutions to protect your personal data and use it to provide something you value?” respondents ranked retailers second to last, at 31 percent—behind government agencies (37 percent), and ahead of Internet companies (18 percent).

Even so, shoppers want personalized experiences. When asked, “Which personalized experiences do you prefer?” respondents ranked promotions via touch-screen or smartphone first (Digital Mass: 46 percent; Über Digitals: 53 percent). This was followed by personalized products, personalized shopping lists, and personalized service.

So, how do we solve this dilemma between a lack of trust and the desire for personalized shopping experiences, which require the collection of personal information? For answers, let’s look at a few of the research findings.

  •     Shoppers want personalized offers that are easy to use – Most people want to receive personalized offers via email at home. This suggests that shoppers — even Über Digitals — start the shopping process while they are in their home environment. The vision of in-store offers may simply not be in sync with the reality of shopper decision making and in-store behavior.
  •     Shoppers are willing to share information – Both Digital Mass and Über Digital shoppers are willing to share past purchase history and basic personal information (name, age, etc.) with retailers to receive a more personalized shopping experience. Topping the list of acceptable information for retailers to use are time spent in the store, location in the store, and products you try but don’t buy.
  •     Shoppers want something in return – To give personal information, however, shoppers must get something in return. By far, the top two factors that would lead shoppers to share more personal information are guaranteed percentage savings on their next purchase and specific dollar savings on their next purchase. Interestingly, a world-class privacy policy ranked third, 21 percent below the second choice for the Digital Mass, and 14 percent below the second response for Über Digitals.

Based on our experience working with many of the world’s leading retailers, there are three key takeaways and actions when it comes to building trust:

  •     Shopper trust must be earned. Retailers can do this by delivering a clear data policy and making the benefits of providing personal information transparent and easy to understand.
  •     IoE is already here. To capture your share of the $100 billion value at stake, develop a strategic plan that takes into account the information above.
  •     Über Digitals are too important to ignore. Selling to these shoppers requires an architecture and infrastructure that can support their increasing expectations for connected, digital shopping experiences.

To gain even more insights into developing trust in an IoE world, take a look at:

*  This year’s Cisco Consulting Digital Shopping Behavior survey includes responses from 1,174 consumers who are representative of the United States broadband population by age, income, and region. It is the fourth in a series of popular “Catch ‘Em and Keep ‘Em” studies by Cisco Consulting Services.

Posted by: Admin AT 08:57 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Provided by Frank Mayer & Associates, Inc.

Retailers are both optimistic and realistic about challenges heading into 2014. Either way, they should be intent on making each touch point with the customer as meaningful as possible. Here are some of the ways our thought leaders see this imperative playing out in stores.

What role does in-store merchandising play in positioning retailers for a new and challenging year ahead?

Mike Mayer, President: Our success and that of our clients going forward will come from helping marketers face a changed environment, changing consumer and rapidly evolving technology. The biggest challenge we can help our clients meet is keeping the in-store experience vibrant and relevant in the midst of upheaval.

We create solutions that keep shoppers coming into stores, help them make sense of categories, and keep them engaging with products so that in the end they appreciate the advantages of the in-store experience and are enabled to shop the way they want to.  Sometimes it isn’t the newest, shiniest technology, and sometimes it is. Fitting the right technology to the environment and the consumer leads to the best outcome.

Are there new tools that will be put to use in the realm of interactive retailing?

Ron Bowers, Senior Vice President Business Development: I’m watching to see if 2014 will usher in a new wave of in-store communication with shoppers. Proximity marketing enabled by beacon technology gives retailers a new tool to interact with connected consumers at precise locations in stores. People in retail, entertainment, transportation and other industries are paying attention to news about Apple’s iBeacon.

I’m rooting for this technology to work because from an in-store merchandising perspective, iBeacon has the potential to increase ROI and make even non-interactive displays “smarter.” A beacon could send a prompt to engage, a purchase incentive, or information.  This solution helps address the “if you build it, will they come” question that often arises when ambitious interactive merchandising solutions are used, and it could enable something as simple as knowing when and where a display gets put up.

Retailers are the real harbingers with beacon technology. If several retailers have successful tests and roll beacons out to their stores in 2014, it will add an exciting new layer of relevance to in-store communication.

This development begs the question: Have we finally reached the point of cultivating true one-to-one relationships with important customers that Peppers and Rogers espoused in their book One to One Future a decade and a half ago?

What will 2014 bring from a display design perspective?

Ryan Lepianka, Creative Director: As online shopping options become more enticing due to cost savings and ever faster shipping, brick and mortar retailers must differentiate themselves evermore from their virtual counterparts.  One aspect that really sets physical retail apart is the presence of well-crafted, hands-on experiences. A live demo allows potential purchasers to gain a tactile knowledge of products that is impossible to attain from a jpeg and a few questionable product reviews.

Heavily branded custom demo stations – for electronics and gadgetry for example – give premium products the pop they need to stand out in a crowded retail environment. They help consumers answer questions like: Does this product have the quality build I’m looking for?  Do I trust this product?

The quality of the demo station itself helps to reinforce a premium message.  These types of displays have elevated in quality of construction and features of late, and I see a continuation of this trend. More enticing lighting, less visible fasteners and more premium-looking materials are defining the preferred brands at retail today.

What worked well at retail in 2013 that we are likely to see more of in 2014?

Joe Holley, Vice President New Business Development–Displays/Merchandisers: The “less is more” trend from retailers this past year will carry into 2014.  A growing number of retailers are focusing their efforts on a detailed consumer profile for a category and only offering products – including top sellers – that fit that profile.  Omitting some SKU’s in the lineup creates opportunities to develop point of purchase displays on a higher level.

Displays and merchandisers have more real estate available to communicate to the consumer and can present a category with more style and simplicity. The “less is more” trend also opens the door for innovative ways to showcase the product as well as provide guidance to the consumer to shop the display/merchandiser with ease at the point of sale.

Posted by: Admin AT 03:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 17 December 2013

By Tanya Williams
     Business Development Manager

As the biggest sales period of the year, every retailer needs to get smarter about how they maximize sales and about turning as many one-off Christmas customers into fans for life. The holiday period is not just about the short-term sales but also the long-term potential to turn these customers into raving fans.

Consumers have more choices than ever before and have an abundance of information at their fingertips. You as a retailer now have the resources to take advantage of this to stop delivering a fragmented "anywhere experience" and to create an "only-here experience" for your customers.

With the increase in online shopping, there is virtually unlimited scope for retailers to think outside the square by embracing digital signage to engage and give consumers a "real" in-store experience. Digital or intelligent signage uses technology to replace static posters as a means of targeting consumers in an engaging and responsive way:

  1. Use online sales to your advantage and create an in-store digital catalogue that takes elements of your website and makes them suitable for use in a store environment.
  2. Combine traditional and digital for greater results.
  3. Provide a personally relevant experience.
  4. Stand out from competitors.
  5. Maximize sales in-store and offer upsells.
  6. Attract new shoppers by having digital signage such as screens, video walls or touch projection in windows, at front of store, etc.
  7. Entertain your customers to extend dwell times.
  8. Promote new product lines.
  9. Know your audience and talk their language.
  10. Use dayparting to reflect the changing mood of the day.
  11. Send the love.
  12. Get social and interact.

Posted by: Admin AT 09:57 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 29 October 2013

By: Kisha Wilson
Marketing Manager at Slabb, Inc.


A company should offer a good product, great customer service, exceptional after-sales service and options to attract customers. But even with all of this, is the deciding factor when purchasing a product all about convenience?

We may know what product we want, if not, we research and identify various options. It is also great when the salesperson we communicate with is knowledgeable and helpful. A warranty on the product and the assurance that having the product maintained and repaired when needed is also a plus. Let's suppose we get all of this at a store and have our much needed product in hand only to face the prospect of a long, meandering line or slow checkout service?

Just think of the angst you experience at Thanksgiving and Christmas when you're faced with long lines. It can also be like this if the store or product is popular. Would facing this, ultimately change your decision about getting the product? For some people, it wouldn't.

I think for me it would. I have three children, two under the age of four and my time is literally never my own. There are so many options and alternatives now that a long line is definitely a deterrent for me. It is even more infuriating when there are several check-out counters with only one or two being manned. I often wonder why businesses do this when they can choose the alternative of providing a self-service method such as an interactive kiosk. Think of how much easier flying is when you check-in beforehand or you avoid the lines by going straight to the check-in kiosk.

Some may argue that it may seem impersonal and limit a company's ability to create a lasting relationship with a customer. Could it also be a missed sales opportunity to promote the benefits of additional products at the check-out line? Maybe not. There have been so many times when things are just so busy the salesperson cannot dedicate their time to the customer in front of them or forgets to offer add-on purchases anyway.

Most customers would return to a store that considers their time, and makes their shopping experience easier. On that account, being less harassed by the sales experience, they might even take the time to answer a quick survey at the kiosk, or entertain add-ons to their purchase which, once programmed correctly, the kiosk will never forget to offer.

According to the Zendesk Benchmark Q2 2013, there has been an increase in customer satisfaction reflected in an average customer satisfaction score of 81 percent. One of the main factors contributing to this is the increase of self-service offerings such as kiosks.

Interactive kiosks are the machinery of choice when it comes to giving the public as many options as possible when conducting transactions. We used to be limited to ATMs, but now self-service kiosks are everywhere, from supermarkets to theatres, to every type of retail location where transactions take place. Depending on the industry, businesses can choose outdoor models, freestanding, desktop or wall-mounted self-service kiosks that offer superior convenience and serve a variety of needs.

This makes it important for companies to choose the right kiosk provider that can understand their needs and provide service and support for the unit. A company with experience, that will ensure that every element of programming and maintenance will be taken care of with the utmost care and precision, as well as ease-of-use for both customers and employees. A kiosk provider should offer custom solutions with both hardware and software to ensure smooth operation at all times.

Previously posted on

Posted by: Admin AT 01:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 08 October 2013

By David Anzia, Frank Mayer & Associates, Inc.

I recently gave an interview where I was asked about the challenges of managing retail self-service projects given the rapid progression of in-store technology.  With the array of tactical mobile options and digital innovations, there are seemingly limitless opportunities for in-store merchandising to connect retail shoppers to the online and virtual worlds.

We can now provide a call to action for consumers to interact with content on demand on any type of retail display or self-service kiosk. Still other “next big things”, like gesture-based interfaces and virtual imaging, are competing for attention.

The challenge in planning for retail merchandising and self-service projects is navigating with our customers through the practical versus the promising.

Retailers are looking for ways to draw traffic and accelerate their omni-channel agenda in-store. Retailers and marketers straddle the line between wanting to evaluate new technologies and wanting to deliver an experience that is intuitive and accepted by consumers.

Forrester Research recently issued 2013 Mobile Trends for Marketers, which evaluated the readiness of “game changing” mobile technologies.  All of these offer the potential of being combined with in-store merchandising. To summarize their analysis:

We expect significant progress in mobile technologies in 2013 — especially around indoor positioning — but not major breakthroughs…While we believe that mobile technologies like GPS, NFC, augmented reality, image recognition, and 2D bar codes will offer phenomenal potential to enhance real-world experiences for consumers, they can’t do so in isolation.

Gaps in infrastructure, the cost of scaling, availability of specific applications on smartphones, and consumer education are all factors that marketers have to consider when making the decision about whether to incorporate promising mobile ‘’on ramps” into in-store merchandising.

Decades of attending trade shows, seeing new technologies demonstrated, engaging in trusted partnerships, and listening to retailers who are constantly taking the pulse of their customers have given us insights that help us evaluate the latest innovations.

What we know is:

  •     The number of NFC enabled phones is growing but still small.
  •     More people are scanning QR codes, but the absolute numbers are small. Context and content are important in making these deliver.
  •     Texting behavior is more pervasive than QR code scanning.
  •     Augmented reality is still a young and developing industry. ROI is an issue.
  •     At the same time we are in the midst of rapid change with the ramp up in smartphone ownership – 56 percent of all U.S. adults according to PEW Research.
  •     Young, active mobile users are a growing force at retail.

While a dose of reality is necessary, the pace of change and the stream of innovation should keep us continuously evaluating the parade of “next big things.” You might say it’s like driving on the highway; we’re aware of what’s right in front of us, but we’re focusing several car lengths ahead.

Posted by: Admin AT 02:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Ajay Chowdhury, Chairman of ComQi

Ten years ago the received wisdom was that cinemas were dead. The rise of Blu-ray, home surround sound, 50-, 60-, 70-inch screens in the home and the fall in DVD prices as contrasted with the inexorable rise in cinema ticket prices were all factors that had everyone convinced that cinema theatres could not survive.

Ten years later, cinema box office takings are at record levels, films are regularly breaking records for opening weekends, ticket prices are even higher and a carton of popcorn costs as much as a full meal in a restaurant.

What happened to the doomsayers?

What happened was that cinemas reinvented themselves. They stopped being a place to just go and see a film and became a community experience. It was no longer about just seeing a film, it was about the experience of a night out with friends in a plush, comfortable environment. Cinemas now offer comfortable seats that lean back, huge IMAX screens, amazing sounds, sofas, food that is served by waiters at your seat, alcohol and much more. They are also getting clever about pricing – different prices on a weekend, lower prices for families with babies during the week, a different experience for seniors and so on.

What they got right was that it was not about the film, it was about the experience.

Today, rumbles are being heard about the death of bricks and mortar retail. No less a visionary than Marc Andreessen (co-founder of Netscape and one of the savviest investors in Silicon Valley) said a month ago “Retail guys are going to go out of business and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice.” And this is apparently being borne out on the high street. Large brand name chains that have closed include Borders, HMV, Jessops, Circuit City, Virgin Megastores, B. Dalton, Woolworths UK and the list gets longer every month. And for those retailers who are surviving, they face the threat of ‘showrooming’ (consumers checking out goods in the store and then buying them online or on their mobile), increasing rent, reducing store sizes, lack of qualified staff, customers wanting to order online and pick up in store and so on.

When we speak to retail CMOs, the top two concerns on their mind are: ‘How can we be more like Amazon?’ and ‘Should I get a mobile app?’ But are these the right questions? Amazon is a unique company that is truly visionary and has reached an amazing scale with very forgiving capital markets. (It was loss making on $61bn of revenues last year and is capitalised at $125bn. Contrast this with Target that made a profit of $1bn on $22bn of revenues and is capitalised at a third of Amazon…).

Similarly getting a mobile app is also not necessarily the answer. There are 775,000 apps in the iPhone App store and 80% of them get less than 100 downloads. Of the ones that do get downloaded the majority get used less than five times a year. Not quite a recipe for success. (As an aside, on these numbers, 620,000 apps get less than 100 downloads. If we assume they cost an average of $10,000 to make – that is $6.2bn wasted in app development effort.)

So what should retailers be thinking about? Well, the threat from e-commerce and mobile is real. Although forecasts do say that in five years over 90% of shopping will still be in bricks and mortar retailers, there is a huge variation in this number. A majority of music and book sales is now online. Electronics and white goods are moving the same way. Fashion remains largely a high street activity but e-commerce is certainly beginning to eat into this as well. (See the success of Zappos' and Amazon’s move into clothing…)

Grocery, food and drug are still largely done in person but a small minority is moving online. So what should retailers be doing to ensure they maintain their brands and hold onto their customers? We believe that retailers should be looking at three core principles to succeed over the next decade.

  1. Provide a superb in-store experience
  2. Link your online, social, mobile and in-store media experiences
  3. Use the data generated by your customers to provide real insights

1) Provide a superb in-store experience

"Stores will become more theatrical, more immersive, and more of a life experience rather than simply a place to get something. As much as they are selling products they will be selling a good time, a lifestyle.” Christopher Studach, creative director, KRS

Just as cinemas reinvented themselves over the last decade to provide a great experience, retailers need to do the same over the next decade. Walk into Victoria’s Secret on Herald Square in Manhattan and you will see a true brand experience. Media and technology are cleverly used to move the customer through the store and get them to make a purchase. We believe the in-store experience is about mapping the customer’s journey base on their frame of mind and then providing the right media and incentives to make shopping a pleasurable experience and getting them to buy more. The experience starts outside the store with the show windows using dynamic video projection, holograms and the like to entice people into the store.

Once they are in the store, the use of touch screens for wayfinding, linking to customer’s online accounts and making recommendations can be powerful. As they move through the store the use of videowalls, digital signage, music, virtual mannequins and so on get them to a decision point where they want to buy and buy more. Other technologies like Delay Mirrors in the dressing room (a screen with a camera showing a live reflection of the customer, yet delayed by a few seconds to see themselves in an outfit from all angles) provide an experience that cannot be had anywhere else. Finally, linking these screens to the customer’s smartphone allows them to get recommendations, find out more information or link to loyalty cards providing a truly holistic experience. This is what makes them come back and recommend it to their friends.

2) Join up your online, social, mobile and in-store media experiences

Most retailers have e-commerce sites, a Facebook or Twitter presence, mobile sites and some media in-store. But these are all in silos and not linked up. Imagine the immense value of recognizing an online customer as they enter the high street store. You can offer tailored promotions as they enter your store and give specific recommendations based on their shopping habits. We believe you can do this by using one technology platform for your in-store media to manage your experiences effectively. This platform then links to your external systems such as your e-commerce site, Facebook, loyalty card systems, smartphones, EPOS systems etc. to provide one view of the customer.

We provide a cloud based platform that does exactly this. It allows our retail clients to manage different digital media on a global basis and collect information on their customers. Using our technology we can link customer smartphones to digital media in a store without an app so customers can check in as they enter the store and be identified so that tailored offers can be made to them. The platform links to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. so it provides a bridge between the online and offline worlds. This allows two things to happen: The retailer has one view of the customer: Whenever the customer interacts with you, you know exactly who they are, where they are and can make the appropriate offer based on their shopping history The customer has one view of the retailer: Whenever the customer interacts with you, they have the same brand experience and can seamlessly move from one medium to the next.

3) Use the data generated by your customers to provide real insights

Finally big data. This is a real buzzword these days. Retailers have a huge amount of data on their customers but only a tiny fraction of this data leads to insights. Working with companies like Dunn Humby, DS-IQ and Path Intelligence allows retailers to take the data they collect and create real actionable insights which then feed back into the in-store strategy to create a virtuous circle. The world is changing and as the consumer has the power retailers also need to change.

”Steve Jobs didn't ask, 'How do we build a phone that can achieve a two percent market share?' He asked, 'How do we reinvent the telephone?’ In the same way, retailers shouldn't be asking, 'How do we create a store that's going to do $15 million a year?' They should be asking, 'How do we reinvent the store to enrich our customers' lives?'”
- Ron Johnson, Apple’s ex Head of Retail


Posted by: Admin AT 04:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 06 May 2013

By Paul Shwabe, Practice Leader - Retail Solutions, RMG Networks

The next mega-challenge for retailers is their ability to measure and analyze when, where and how consumers “touch” each fulfillment channel along their path-to-purchase.

Retailers are spending millions to development modern processes in this era of agile commerce with flexibility to meet the consumer’s multi-channel demand. Presently retailers are struggling with actually tracking the entire journey beginning to end (web, mobile, in-store) as a consumer jumps from one channel to the next channel as they get to the moment of purchase.

Before retailers can solve this question/problem they must ask themselves more questions about the consumer. It is critical for retailers to understand the context, content, and community which the consumer will travel… and only then will retailers be able to analyze and build metrics of commerce.


In the past retailers used to control the entire brand message and communicate it in a very linear and one-directional modality to their consumers. Clearly, those days are long gone and today’s consumers are liberated and free to research a brand to their hearts content, price compare, and now “buy anywhere” (web, mobile, in-store) and even abandon a specific channel experience only to resume their quest later with another channel with the eventual purchase with the demand “get anywhere” (in-store, store-pickup, store-delivery, delivery-to-home).


Retailers need to recognize the relevancy of a consumer’s awareness and selection of a brand product or category based upon the physical proximity and decision proximity. The context of proximity will dictate the consumer’s preferred channel.
As well content and community will influence a consumer based upon whether they are making a product choice or comparison or simply looking for more category educational information. Retailers / store associates whom understand each aspect of relevancy of a consumer will also drive a consumer’s behavior.


Retailers and advertisers blend the physical environment as well as every imaginable digital asset (music, video, and graphics) and technology (WiFi, interactivity, augmented reality, RFID, NFC) to influence and shape the consumers experience in their purchase decision.

The skill and balance is that content visually presented and personalized can be used for both Educational – early in the awareness stage and then Selection – later in brand product comparisons or product choice.


Retailers and brands are recognizing the power of social networks (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+) as well that consumers are inclined to reach out to family, friends, co-workers, store associates, and even strangers with whom have made similar life style purchase choices for their opinions, feedback, how-to, knowledge before they will make their final decision.
Consider the number of retailers that are launching other web sites, mobile apps, blogs to support their brand community (MyLowes, Home Depot’s – The Apron, Macy’s mBLOG, Neiman Marcus’ NMdaily).


Retailers must re-educate their store associates as well sponsor increased employee communicate to alter an era of transaction based culture & attitude toward the consumer so it is transformed to a relationship culture. There is a shift in thinking with both Retailers and Consumers as reference in “The AVATAR moment for Consumers and Retailers.” Commerce maybe a primary objective, but relationship is critical to sustain and grow.

Technology helps support the consumer experience, but consistency in the consumer’s path-to-purchase is the first step to innovation and transformation.

photo credit: VinothChandar

View original article on the RMG Networks blog


Posted by: Admin AT 04:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 17 April 2013

By Bill Lynch

I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and began working in my family's grocery store at the age of 12. I learned a lot during that time and still retain the title as the world's best grocery bagger! It drives me bonkers to watch other people bag my groceries with no regard to forming a proper base and making sure the fragile items are not crushed!!

Sorry, I got a little sidetracked. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, lessons from the old days.

At that time, access to information on product sales, the competitive environment, etc. was limited to the trade magazines and the direct sales people. Sales people were a strategic source of information for my father and his employees. They brought with them a plethora of product brochures, planograms and selling or promotional tips.

Upon graduating college, my father urged me to look outside the grocery industry for a job. To this day, I'm not sure whether he was more concerned with me expanding my horizons, or simply trying to protect the food industry. I found myself in an entry-level sales position calling on banks and credit unions. Frankly, not much had changed over the years and one learned how to cold call, build relationships, close the sale and so on. The sales person was the primary representative of the company and the marketing department's role was to generate interest and create selling tools for the sales force. In many companies, it was common for the marketing and sales departments to be at odds and continually complaining about the other.

Obviously, it all began to change in the mid-90s with the Internet and in the past 10 years, social media and mobile have greatly accelerated that change. A customer's relative isolation to information has been eliminated and the buying process has changed dramatically. Customers are smarter about trends, competition and pricing. The need to talk to a sales person about these topics or 'features and benefits' no longer exists.

They are educating themselves long before you, the supplier, are even aware they may have a need. They're reviewing sites, searching Twitter and listening to webinars. They're gathering the information and identifying those companies who demonstrate an understanding of the issues long before they speak with a sales person. Marketing is playing a much bigger role in providing that information than ever before.

Subsequently, the role of the sales person is also changing. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson have addressed in their book, The Challenger Sale, the aspects of what makes a good sales person in the new world. They note that sales people have to move from order-taking closers to becoming a trusted consultant who can provide insight and direction. The best sales people are those who've educated themselves on multiple topics to provide added value to the customer. Sometimes, as the book title indicates, the salesperson must challenge a customer's strategy and suggest alternatives.

As you observe kiosk, digital signage and mobile companies, one would assume a technology company would be attuned to these changes and adjusting their sales/marketing approach accordingly. But one would assume incorrectly. Too many companies in our industry are still entrenched in the old beliefs that marketing generates leads and simply hands them off to a sales person. The sales person then takes them through a 'process' to close the sale. They still believe that marketing's only role is to support sales. In fact, many companies have yet to combine sales and marketing under one leader.

The smarter companies are more closely aligning the two departments. They're working together to monitor the marketplace and looking beyond their own product focus to identify new opportunities and threats. Smart companies understand that Marketing's role has expanded and they need to play a larger role in the sales process. They need to help educate both the customer and the sales person.

But what do you do if your company hasn't made the shift in strategy?

First and foremost, you don't wait for them. You take the initiative to begin educating yourself so that you can become a better resource for your co-workers and your customers. You take the time each day to improve your knowledge of the markets by reviewing websites, attending webinars and reading whitepapers.

Make the time and effort to network throughout the omnichannel industry. You need to educate yourself on the adjacent industries to truly understand the challenges and opportunities. An expert in kiosks isn't of much value if they don't understand the impact of digital signage and mobile. By talking and not just sending a LinkedIn requests, with others in our industry, you'll gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight.

Engage and help your industry! Attending tradeshows and getting involved with your relevant associations is critical. (Disclaimer: I'm active member of the Digital Screenmedia Association and believe all of you reading this article also should be members. Really.) I'm a strong believer that engagement is a smart investment and the professional and personal rewards are tremendous.

Broaden your education. Read more. The book I mentioned previously is a great place to start. But don't forget to revisit the classics from Paco Underhill, Tom Peters and Dale Carnegie. Read more fiction! You can learn a lot from Jason Bourne and Dr. Seuss. Attend online classes. Many of them are free and taught by world-renowned professors

Just as the lines separating mobile, kiosks and digital signage have blurred and overlapped, our organizations must modify to meet the demands of the new customer. Changing belief systems as to how sales and marketing will work in the future is not easy. It takes patience, education and persistence to form a cohesive team. If you wish to stay relevant and profitable, you'll start that change today.

Posted by: Admin AT 08:54 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Without customers, businesses fail. As we ponder and project what 2010 has in store for us, I look back to my thoughts and predictions from this past year to see what the future could hold.

There are a number of questions that continue to stick out in my mind just as much today as they did last year. “What will happen when companies are finished with the layoffs, the cuts, and downsizing? How will companies rebound, engage their customers, and encourage them to spend again? What will they need to do to engage customers and win their business?” And finally, “what will be the most efficient and effective manner to accomplish this?”
Executives challenged by these questions have much to consider – so, where do they start? They start by considering the total cost of ownership. From strategy development to execution/deployment, operational and maintenance issues to scalability, the total cost of ownership is a critical number for organizations to understand and examine. Understanding what technologies are available to enable their customer engagement strategies, what is needed to justify and implement these solutions (especially in the tough economic climate we face), as well as how they impact the path to purchase is vital to determining a proper ROI.

The true challenges lie in what executives must consider next. How do companies re-engage (or in many cases, engage for the first time) with prospects and customers? And just as important: How can their everyday experiences be turned into exciting and pleasurable experiences, yet also demonstrate an understanding of the time constraints and other limitations people face?

And therein lies my big prediction. Customer engagement will be the name of the game in 2010. Customer engagement will be what provides answers for these important questions. While electronic communication often can be effective and improve both cost and operational efficiencies, communication alone does not address the dilemmas companies face, nor does it do more than suggest reasons for product purchase. It may be a piece of the puzzle, but it does not provide the solution.

What is needed is a focus on engagement and the development of a strategy that ties in not only informational communication, but more importantly, addresses how to engage customers and prospects in a manner that takes them down the path to purchase.
In the coming months, I’ll revisit this prediction and discuss if this prediction is in fact holding true. It should be interesting to see the path our industry takes this year and I think it’s safe to say we’ll have some amazing examples to discuss along the way.
Posted by: Lawrence Dvorchik AT 03:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 12 October 2009
Mobile banking is the next major, logical step in retail banking. And the exponentially increasing adoption rates prove its growing popularity. But how ready are financial institutions to choose a mobile-banking solution? Are they evaluating the options based on short-term knowledge of the technology, or do they truly understand the power this channel has to build and solidify customer relationships in the next two to five years? And have they truly considered what these new relationships can mean, not only to the customer experience but also to bottom-line profitability?

To truly understand, let’s take a look at a very real mobile-banking scenario: A consumer approaches an ATM to withdraw $200 from his checking account. His balance following this transaction will be $300. Because he has an auto loan from the same FI and also uses online bill payment, the FI determines that his balance will not cover his $325 car payment that is due in two days. A text alert is immediately sends a text message to his mobile phone to confirm he wants to proceed with the transaction, potentially saving him an unnecessary overdraft fee.

Never have financial institutions — or any other organizations for that matter — had a better opportunity to relate so intimately and relevantly with customers or members.

To fully grasp the impact, consider the long-term benefits of such an intimate customer relationship. Also consider the efficiency with which this relationship is delivered, when compared with other marketing efforts that can cost thousands of dollars with returns of less than 2 percent.
Today’s mobile-banking functionality represents merely a sliver of what the channel ultimately can do. For the FI, the mobile phone as a channel is really a proxy for the consumer. Wherever the phone is, the consumer also is. These days, half the world’s population is carrying a mobile phone. 

So how can an FI best utilize this channel? The ones that will succeed with their mobile-banking deployment are those that use the channel for the purposes of timely, contextual and relevant messages to consumers.

How FIs capitalize on the mobile revolution
The real value in mobile banking goes far beyond simple account balance inquiries, transfers and alerts. Sure, there’s immediate payback to the FI in migrating these basic transactions away from costlier teller or call center alternatives, but the most important role mobile plays for FIs is in relationship building. It’s in integrating other delivery channels to give consumers new, value-added services and unprecedented convenience and control. It’s in providing a consumer a greater sense of security during an ATM transaction by authenticating the user. And it’s in facilitating payments as a means of avoiding a late fee or as an alternative to more expensive, less convenient options.

Channel collaboration
By leveraging existing ATM technology, FIs can capture consumer preferences and integrate that data with back-end customer relationship-management systems. Marketing offers, for example, can be timely, in context and immediate — all of which is enabled by the nature of the mobile channel. For that reason, it is possible to achieve double-digit response rates that dwarf those of traditional direct-marketing tactics.

With marketing via mobile phones, there are many more data points that can be collected, which helps FIs customize their communications. These increasingly customized communications yield more intimate relationships. And this integrated, immediate approach helps FIs bolster service and promote cross-selling opportunities to consumers who rely on mobile devices and those who are underbanked or don’t have convenient access to brick-and-mortar establishments.
Facilitating payments

Mobile banking as a channel strategy allows FIs to provide value-added services in helping consumers manage their money. Consider the wallet-management philosophy that some FIs have applied as an extension to online banking. It provides consumers with seamless access to their finances, along with intuitive, tangible and direct control of their money through tools, graphs and interactive features that help track spending and other activity. Expanding this concept to mobile banking and the ATM enables a new service once only intended for the Web that can benefit consumers in how they use other delivery channels. Adding mobile banking to wallet management enables the immediacy factor and two-way text alerts to dramatically improve the service FIs provide to their most committed customers and members.

Offering new services
Person-to-person, or P2P, payments, which enable consumers to make and receive payments with one another electronically, is just one of the new opportunities FIs can offer to strengthen the consumer relationship. In the United States alone, account-to-account transactions are a $320 billion industry. Mobile banking allows FIs to provide this service more conveniently and less expensively than existing wire-transfer methods by sending money to an individual’s phone number. By leveraging existing technology, P2P transactions are conducted on a mobile phone and a code is sent to the intended party’s phone. The person is then able to go to an ATM, enter the code and receive the cash. The phone becomes the information conduit to make this transaction happen seamlessly, while the ATM allows the cash transfer to take place in real-time.

Enhancing security
An added security layer that mobile banking offers FIs and consumers addresses a high-profile area of vulnerability: skimming. For example, the end-user approaches an ATM to take out cash; he enters his PIN and instantly receives a text message requiring him to enter a one-time six-digit code at the terminal to complete the transaction. This consumer card-control solution utilizes one channel to protect what is happening in another. Other mobile banking security tactics include proximity-based alerts, which further mitigate fraud due to skimming. This innovative security software can validate the card being used at an ATM, as well as the location or proximity of the accountholder’s mobile phone in relation to that specific ATM. If the software can’t detect this relationship, the transaction is terminated.
Developing loyalty and profitability
Mobile banking provides unprecedented opportunities to build relationships with customers. It does this by delivering timely, contextual and meaningful messages in a very personal way. Mobile banking is a catalyst for developing a new level of loyalty and intimacy for FIs with their customers and members, and for building a new level of profitability. To achieve this, however, FIs need a partner that understands, shares and drives the same vision. An FI’s mobile-banking partner must have the expertise to implement and sustain a complete mobile-banking channel strategy and support its technology. But more importantly, it must understand the full potential this offering brings to FIs and consumers alike. Mobile banking truly is the next generation in banking.
Robert Usner is senior director for global market strategy and planning for Diebold Inc.
Posted by: Bob Usner AT 01:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 28 September 2009

It isn’t often that we truly can compare apples to apples when it comes to kiosks. There are many reasons: The applications on the kiosks are different (retail versus financial services, for example). The hardware and software manufacturers are not the same. The placements within the businesses are so different that a real comparison would be unfair.

Recently, however, we did have the rare opportunity to compare two kiosks in two deployments that presented a level playing field. Both kiosks belong to the retail self-checkout vertical market, and both use the same hardware and software from NCR. Furthermore, they are located in the checkout lanes in large big box retailers—Ikea and Lowe’s—and both use the kiosks as an integral part of their customer experience strategy. The difference is that one provides a positive experience while the other leaves the customer frustrated.

Although the exterior appearance of the kiosks is slightly different to allow each retailer to leverage its brand—logos, colors, fonts—the kiosks essentially look the same and operate in the same manner. The usage process is identical: Customers scan the barcode on their items, or key them in, and move the product down to the end for bagging. When all the items have been successfully scanned, customers pay for their purchases, collect their receipt and proceed to the exit.

The kiosk at Ikea was frustrating to use. The built-in scanner did not work, despite repeated attempts, so I tried to use the hand held scanner. That attempt was not initially successful, either, until an employee came by and said I needed to hold the scanner about six inches from the barcode. I asked her "How was I supposed to know that? There is nothing on the screen to indicate that this is how the thing works." She shot me an angry look and walked away. I was serious. The secret to self-service—any kind of self service, including candy vending machines—is don’t make me think. As I looked around at other customers at nearby kiosks, I saw that several were equally thwarted in their attempts to check out. They were looking for another kiosk to use. But once I learned how to use the scanner, I was able to complete the check-out process without incident.

Later that day, I used the kiosk at Lowe’s with no problem. The built-in scanner worked perfectly, and I was able to check myself out quickly and easily. Admittedly, now that I was proficient at using the NCR checkout kiosks from my visit to Ikea, the process was easier to complete.
One problem with the kiosks at both stores was that the numeric keypad was not laid out in the format we all understand, the layout used worldwide on phones. This one is laid out more like the keypad on a computer keyboard. It is not the worst fault one could imagine, but the unusual configuration does slow down a user.

Why was one experience so much better than the other, given that the hardware and user interface were the same? We believe it is because the kiosks at Lowe’s are better maintained and all seemed to work without any difficulty or hiccup. Statistics from our recently published flagship report, the seventh edition of "Kiosks and Interactive Technology," show that the overwhelming majority of kiosk deployers say they maintain their kiosks either directly (using store personnel) or through third-party providers. But having a maintenance contract and actually having preventive or routine maintenance performed on a regular basis are two entirely different things.

What can we conclude? Lowe’s seems to apply more resources to keeping its kiosks fully operational. As far as I could tell, the kiosks all worked flawlessly. The Ikea units were problematic; several customers (in addition to myself) began looking for another kiosk the moment we encountered repeated difficulties. The store, even on a Tuesday morning, was quite busy, and all the other kiosks were in use, so we had to make do. Customers are not given the luxury of finding a human to check them out—it is use the kiosk or leave empty-handed. In a number of cases over the years, we have seen people give up and leave the store, or find a human-assisted checkout line.

Negative experiences can have a significant impact on the likelihood a customer will return to shop another day. But while Lowe’s customers always have the choice of visiting a Home Depot or smaller hardware stores, Ikea customers are less fortunate. The chain simply has no real competition. The choices are too vast, the designs are too appealing and, most importantly, the prices are too low, for their customers to take their business elsewhere. They will return, grumbling about their less-than-happy experience at the checkout counter, but they will be back. It would be nice to know that in the future, they will find kiosks that are as easy to use as those at Lowe’s.

Francie Mendelsohn is president of Summit Research Associates

Posted by: Francie Mendelsohn AT 01:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 14 September 2009
Oct.1, 2009, marks the 10th anniversary of the first talking ATM installed in the United States. From that first accessible ATM’s release in 1999, there are now tens of thousands of talking ATMs around the world.
Here I highlight the advocacy efforts, technology developments and corporate commitments that have contributed to the proliferation of talking ATMs in the United States and around the world over the past 10 years. Please check my Web site over the next two months for more updates.
Blind community advocates laid the groundwork for talking ATMs in the 1980s and early 1990s, with important policy work on federal legislation and regulations. These advocates made strides with the banking industry, as well as by serving on standard-setting committees. Banks were first contacted using structured negotiations in the mid-1990s; by 1999, all of these efforts resulted in the first installed talking ATMs in the United States.
CCB advocacy leads to Wells Fargo’s 1999 state-wide commitment
Three months before the first talking ATM was installed in the United States, Wells Fargo and the California Council of the Blind announced a historic plan to install talking ATMs throughout the state. 
When the first 20 talking ATMs were installed at Wells in April 2000, Wells became the U.S. bank with the most talking ATMs in the country. 
In 2002, Wells Fargo announced state-wide plans for Talking ATMs in Iowa. In 2003, the bank announced that its talking ATMs also would provide spoken instruction in Spanish. By 2009, all of Wells’ more than 7,000 ATMs are talking ATMs.
1999: First U.S. talking ATM installed in San Francisco City Hall
The first talking ATM in the United States was built by Canadian accessibility company T-Base Communications Inc. for the San Francisco Federal Credit Union. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the ATM's installation at San Francisco City Hall, part of San Francisco’s plan to make City Hall fully accessible.
Len Fowler, then a T-Base employee, flew to San Francisco with the parts and assembled the audio aspects of the Diebold Inc. machine on-site.
T-Base got the bid, because the only 12 talking ATMs in the world at that time were owned by the Royal Bank of Canada.
California Council of the Blind’s 1999 Citibank announcement
One month after San Francisco’s talking ATM was up and running, the California Council of the Blind on Nov. 9, 1999, announced that Citibank had installed five talking ATMs in California. The announcement was the result of an agreement that CCB and individual CCB members had reached with the bank. Eighteen months later, Citibank announced that it had installed the first talking ATMs in New York. 
The early Citibank talking ATMs were touchscreen-only, with unique tactile input devices along the bottom of the screen. That input method, while innovative and effective at the time, proved cumbersome, and today all talking ATMs, including Citibank ATMs, have tactile keypads.
Bank of America’s 2000 multistate talking ATM commitment
Bank of America was the first bank in the country to agree to install talking ATMs in more than one state. In March 2000, B of A announced a deal with CCB to develop a plan to install talking ATMs in California and Florida and said it would work out a plan for the rest of the country the following year.
B of A, the California Council of the Blind and several blind individuals eventually signed three different settlement agreements, ultimately calling for the installation of talking ATMs at every U.S. B of A location. The bank is now very close to meeting that goal, with more than 12,000 talking ATMs installed across the country.
Lainey Feingold is managing partner with the Law Office of Lainey Ford.
Posted by: Lainey Feingold AT 01:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 06 May 2009
Last month, I was invited to visit the Microsoft Retail Experience Center near the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. We've talked about the REC before, as well as shared with you a video walkthrough, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to see it first-hand.

It's a truly remarkable retail test lab, one that could easily be mistaken for a real electronics superstore, but you'd never know it if you drove by: The 20,000-square-foot facility is tucked away inside an unmarked building with no Microsoft signage anywhere to be seen. It's an invitation-only affair, a place where the company can bring retailers, partners and focus groups to test-run merchandising strategies and in-store technologies.

Stephen Sparrow, Microsoft's senior industry marketing manager for U.S. retail, is the driving force behind the center. He said his emphasis is on making the retail experience more connected, a word he uses a lot. It's at the core of his philosophy of what retail must become in order to thrive ? connecting stores with one another, with their employees, and with their customers.

"Disney used to say, when you're on a Disney cruise line, we'd better be able to recognize you as someone who just dropped four grand on a cruise," he said. "(We want to) create a world where you have more transparency, where you can deliver the right information and business insights to the right person, in an actionable way, when they need it and where they need it."

SLIDESHOW: Take a look inside the Microsoft Retail Experience Center

The store itself is a faux electronics store, replete with big-screen TVs, laptops, Xbox games and boxed software. But beneath the surface, the emphasis on connectedness bubbles up in some unique and new ways.

Take the shopping cart, with integrated touchscreen. Anyone who has attended a retail trade show in recent years has seen any number of such smart carts, but here it is integrated with the store's loyalty program to connect store database with shopper from the moment the shopping experience begins. An interactive store map, with turn-by-turn directions, not only delivers the shopper to the right place but builds an ever-growing pool of behavioral data.

Most of the products the shopper passes by in the store bear a Microsoft Tag, a technology that Sparrow calls "leveraged capital" ? a unique example of an in-store technology that the customer paid for himself, the cell phone. Giving a shopper a handheld scanner is one thing, but utilizing a device that is already in his pocket is quite another.

Giant touchscreens dot the walls, allowing customers to browse never-ending catalogs in a very intuitive fashion. Similarly hands-on experiences are served up by a Surface tabletop computer. In each instance, the devices in the store are pulling from the same central database, which not only insures a consistent experience, it saves the retailer time and money ? a screenshot or a product photo or a box cover need only be scanned once, and can then be automatically resized and repurposed for whatever touchpoint needs it.

Making the supply chain fully visible from source to shelf requires tagging, and in a perfect world, retailers will have RFID tags applied by the manufacturer. But for smaller retailers or those with a manageable assortment of products (or perhaps assortments from a large number of sources), the answer lies at the back of the REC. A desk bears a computer station with an RFID printer; as products come in the back door, a staffer prints a tag for each one and applies it to the box. Boxes are walked through a pair of reader gates, and from that moment on, the store is aware of each and every product for sale in the house.

In the back office, the database is mined through a data-rich but easy-to-understand management dashboard. From a single location, a manager can see any idiosyncrasy at the device level, and can make smart scheduling decisions. Color-coded feeds give real-time sales data, out-of-stock alerts, camera arrays, and even comparison charts detailing other stores in the network.

Sparrow pointed out that it's not just customers that benefit from the connected experience ? it empowers store managers to do their job better.

"You look at store managers ? retailers typically take their best sales rep and make him the manager and put him behind a desk with a Monday morning report," he said. "We say, give him that report mobile. And do it quickly, so he can get back on the sales floor, helping customers."

Sparrow said the REC is a "living, breathing facility," one that is evolving over time. In recent weeks, his team has begun experimenting with interactive storefront windows and new merchandising strategies.

"We understand that it's all about the customer? how do you help them find what they need," he said. "And how do you help the employee help that customer."
Posted by: James Bickers AT 05:30 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
A decade ago, the self-checkout unit was a relatively new concept. Now, one can't walk through a Meijer, Kroger or Home Depot without seeing them. From information kiosks to wayfinding stations, self-service permeates the retail experience. What prompted this seismic shift? Norma Wolcott, self-service business line executive for IBM Corp., explains why she believes self-service is a natural response to consumer demand.

Posted by: Norma Wolcott AT 10:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
That is the question that was posed to exhibitors of KioskCom Self Service Expo in October by Mark Freed of J.D. Events, the show's owner and operator. It was a good question because there is often a blurring of the line between the two. Historically, digital signage was on LCD or plasma panels and mounted high on a wall, while kiosks were various computer screens from 8- to 19-inches and were usually touchscreen interactive. But when you consider LCD technology that has become cheaper and more commonplace, coupled with the use of touch overlays that are capable of being used on 42- to 60-inch screens, well, it's not a stretch to say that digital signage is interactive, and essentially a very large screen kiosk.
Or is it?
Digital signage can be interactive, and I think that is what determines what you call your project. Digital signage management tools often limit the amount of full programmable interaction you can create to accomplish your goals. After all, the main difference between kiosk management software and digital signage management software is that DS tools allow for scheduling of content into predefined zones or templates. A kiosk application is not expecting "scheduled content" and the way that information is laid out on screen can be most anything imaginable. So if you are running a system with a digital management tool you should think of your application as digital signage or perhaps interactive digital signage.
If you are using a kiosk management tool, well, it could be a kiosk. But it could also be simple digital signage. It's confusing, I know. Even for those of us in the industry, the lines between them are gray.
Some digital signage management tools such as Scala are highly programmable and allow for integration of Javascript, VbScript or Python scripting to extend the dynamic content from a database. Not all management tools allow for this level of robust flexibility. The flipside is that Scala is dramatically more expensive than simpler digital signage management tools, which means it is often used for enterprise level signage.
So when is a project digital signage and when is it a kiosk? The show made it a contest for exhibitors to come up with an interesting answer. Below are some of those answers. The winner was Dr. Robert DeVargas, chief financial officer of Eternal Interactive LLC. He made his answer a bit of prose which I enjoy:
Is it signage or a kiosk? The answer's tricky to tell;
For everything a kiosk is, the signage is as well.
There is one trait to ponder, that may put this to rest;
It's not how each one functions, but how they're used the best.
For it's signage at a distance, for many eyes to see;
But when a user's on it, a kiosk it must be.
Thanks, Dr. DeVargas, for a good, quippy response. Below are some of the other responses:
"Digital signage is a kiosk when its message contains a call to action that can be immediately acted upon by interacting with the same sign."
                                        --Jeff Brinson
                                                      Presentation Concepts Corp.
"Kiosks and digital signage share the same mandate of attracting, engaging and communicating with today's hi-tech consumer offering everyone universal and ubiquitous access to the benefits of the digital economy. This new culture of fast-paced individuals who manage their lifestyles through technology ... have indeed spawned the age of the kiosk and digital signage as a means of meeting their unique needs for digital engagement in the public sector."
                                        --Doug B Matatall
                                           iPhoenix Corporation
"When is a kiosk digital signage? When you see it hanging 10 feet off the ground where you can’t touch it. (Good for physical security concerns, bad for interactivity)."
                                        --Tim Burke (author of this Perspective)
"Q: When Is A Kiosk Digital Signage?
A: A kiosk is digital signage when it is networked to other kiosks and large-format displays, and showcases digital content in any form. Additionally, a kiosk qualifies as digital signage if it is tightly integrated with, and strategically complements, a digital out-of-home media network, regardless of its size, placement, or environment. Finally, if consumers can't tell the difference, and respond positively to displayed content, then the kiosk is digital signage. Today, marketers do not need to choose one or the other. Rather, cost-effective kiosk and digital signage applications may be seamlessly deployed side-by-side, working closely together to stimulate consumer behavior."
                                        --Ian McKenzie
                                                      Dynamax Technologies
"When you can attach an ROI and you know what channel the sale came from."
                                        --Lou Boudreau
                                                     SkyMall Corporate Office
As you can see, the answer depends on whom you ask.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 12:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 19 December 2008
Self-service and customer service -- the two are not mutually exclusive concepts. Experticity has proven that with its innovative self-service solution that enables retail customers to speak live one-on-one with off-site customer service representatives via kiosk. Watch as Matt Scoble, vice president of business development for Experticity, demonstrates this solution on an NCR SelfServ 60 kiosk.

Posted by: Matt Scoble AT 12:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 02 December 2008

I love Southwest Airlines. The low fares are great. The egalitarian boarding system is great — even after they implemented the new numbering system. Snacks and meals? No big deal. Airports have restaurants. The main things to me are a cheap seat, getting where I’m going on time with as little trouble as possible, and dealing with employees who give a damn about me and what I want.

That's why I was so disappointed with a recent change Southwest made to its beverage service.

I fly enough with Southwest and drink so little on planes that I usually have some coupons in my computer bag for that occasional glass (or two) of bourbon I'll tip back on a late-night flight home. But if I don't, I like to pay cash. It's easy. If I charge something, there are receipts to worry about, and I harbor this secret dread that something will be wrong with my credit card and the attendant will yell out in the cabin that I’ve been declined.

But if I'm buying drinks for a client on a flight, or if I've left all my cash in Las Vegas, the card is good, too.

Bottom line: I like choice. And Southwest has taken away one small sliver of it. Now, if I don't have coupons, I'm forced to swipe. In the words of the immortal poet David Spade, "me no likey."

Making matters worse, the explanation just doesn't feel right to me. In justifications published in news accounts as well as announced over cabin P.A. systems, the airline says it went to credit-only payment because customers wanted it.

Nonsense. Do some travelers want to pay by card? Of course they do. But it's hard to believe there were many travelers clamoring for the elimination of the cash option. Did a single flyer utter the words, "Please, don't let me pay by cash. Force me to use my card?" I doubt it. Once my current stack of coupons goes, I may never have another drink while I roam about the country. (I might not have anyway, since they stopped serving Maker's Mark. But that's another column for another kind of Web site.)

Here's the point for self-service deployers: Keep customer options open. And if you do shut an option down, level with the customer about why you’re doing it.

I would never shop at a grocery store that is self-serve check-out only. Sometimes I don't even know what kind of fruit my wife has tossed into the cart, let alone how much it costs. Sometimes a box is too big and I don't want to fuss with getting it out of the car before I get to my car. Sometimes I just get lonely, for heaven's sake, and like a cute cashier to ring me out!

But even worse, though, is when I want to use self-service and walk through a store with rows of self-service checkout stands sitting closed, red LEDs warning me away as though there were some latent danger lurking beneath the cold scanners and inside the folds of plastic bags. If you're going to deploy self-service, have enough of it available that the option is a meaningful one.

Same thing for hotels and others: If you're going to offer self-service, have enough of it for the option to be meaningful. And while we still shouldn't have to say this, make sure the kiosks are working.

Home Depot learned the choice lesson the hard way a couple of years ago, when the CEO oversaw a mammoth self-service deployment that overtook, rather than augment, the human side of the checkout process. Customer-service ratings fell. Sales dropped. And soon enough, the CEO was printing resumes, perhaps (one hopes) at a self-service copier somewhere.

Must customers have everything? No. They don't. Despite the gotta-have-it-all hype used to describe the modern consumer, truth is, most folks know there are limits to what stores — and airlines — can and cannot do. What is important, however, is to make available everything feasible. And if you're not going to do so, to fess up on why, and prepare for the consequences.

Posted by: Joesph Grove AT 12:20 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 13 October 2008
Our company often has prospects looking for kiosk hardware or software who have not thought through the entire experience. This includes not considering the amount of information on screen that a person is willing to read while standing at a kiosk, or considering how the person interacts with the software.
A common example is the keyboard. The basic question, "Should I have a keyboard on my kiosk?" doesn't seem to go through their minds, so it's our job to help them think through this when we consult for them.
Think about it. You have a touchscreen kiosk with a killer app that is going to make your company money, reward your customers, streamline operations, etc. Why do you need a keyboard when you can just have an onscreen keyboard?
In our experience, there are some pros and cons to having only a touchscreen keyboard. By relying on the touch keyboard, you will need to consider the interface and how much real estate it will consume onscreen. This means you have less space for your content or the form fields where the user will enter data. It also increases your software development budget, as the keyboard needs to be integrated, customized to your branding, etc.
But one of the biggest reasons not to use an onscreen keyboard for your kiosk is your customer. As long as you only are asking for small amounts of data, an onscreen keyboard is great. But if you are asking for much typing from the customer, we have found that the adoption rate or completion rate drops considerably. Nobody wants to enter as much data as they would on a Web page, when using a touch keyboard. The user is not accustomed to the flat surface that is perpendicular to the ground, and they will type much slower. A traditional keyboard sits flat and with proper ergonomics, a person can type very fast.
So if you are asking for a good deal of typing from your customers, consider a tradtional tactile qwerty keyboard. While users will still type slower than what they are used to when they are in their comfy chair in front of their desk, it will be more natural for them and you will get better participation in your programs. There are many different styles to chose from, and each kiosk vendor has their own preferences based upon testing, availability, durability, etc.
At Electronic Art, we integrated a smaller keyboard with a built-in trackpad, which requires less cleaning than a trackball and has no moving parts. We believe more people are comfortable with a trackpad that is similar to laptops, than an ball system. The keyboard is not hardened or vandal resistant, but it is also about one-sixth of the cost of a hardened keyboard. We rarely have problems with them, and when we do, it is easy to replace.
Hardened keyboards or vandal-resistant keyboards are very cool. They are well engineered to resist spills, prying off of keys, breakage, and they are made to take many more cycles of up/down on the keys. There are many reasons to consider using them, such as when you have a kiosk in an unattended environment like a shopping mall. But if you are using it in a monitored area, such as a retail shop, you may find them to be overkill. They also are often harder to depress (slightly) and flat without finger curves on top, which can lead some users to type slower, or it can leave them with a negative experience that makes them feel uncomfortable. Some models are also not in a typical configuration, so the space bar or control keys are in places you would not expect. They add $200-$450 to the cost of a kiosk on average. There are both ruggedized plastic or metal versions depending on your risk tolerance.
Another cool keyboard concept is the software/hardware from Staco Switch that allows onscreen keyboards to feel as if you are really touching a button. It sounds impossible, but when touching the screen it gives the right vibrations to your brain, making you feel like you just depressed a physical button. I'm so hoping to get a customer that will want to integrate this great attention getter into their applications. It would be great on kiosks or touchscreen digital signage.
Recently, our technical director passed on a link to me about a brand new methodology of using onscreen keyboards called Swype. While in it's infancy, it seems really cool. Instead of touching each letter individually, you draw a path between letters and a word matching search engine provides predictive text to speed up your typing. CNet did a quick video on their site about it from the TechCrunch50 show. It would not work for every project, and introducing a new mindset on input may confuse your customers, so you should only use it when appropriate to your audience. And expect to have to give assistance while people learn it, but it can provide an impactful wow factor to your edgy project!
So no matter if you plan to use a physical keyboard or an onscreen keyboard, consider your customer. What will they prefer, and what will be most intuitive and easy for them. Test with A/B testing if you have a budget. But don't let the input method get in the way of your killer app and kiosk's success.
Tim Burke is the owner of Electronic Art.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 12:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 18 August 2008
Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.
These three words have collectively become known as the FUD factor.
From a technology standpoint, you can trace FUD all the way back to the mainframe computing era when IBM instilled FUD in its customers to eschew superior products in favor of the old guard. As the saying goes, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM."
When it comes to self-service, there is a new species of FUD on the horizon. But this time, it's not being waged between technology vendors. Rather, this FUD emanates from the consumers themselves, who increasingly feel alienated by technology innovations that they perceive to hinder human interactions. 

Today's consumer often wants it both ways. They demand knowledgeable customer service agents to be at their beck and call. Yet when service is delivered via a new technology — whether it's a touchscreen kiosk in an airport, a virtual concierge service or the self-checkout in your local grocery store — a consumer's initial reaction is often one of trepidation.
We fear that which we do not know or understand. 

I speak from firsthand experience. My company, Experticity, develops technology that delivers live, two-way video interactions between consumers and expert sales agents who can be served up from any remote location. When starting the company, I realized there would be many technology obstacles to surmount: from creating a seamless experience where the nuance and context of real-world interactions could be properly relayed, to the challenge of delivering crisp video over slower retail networks.
What I hadn't fully anticipated was the irrational fear that many consumers instinctively feel when encountering new and unfamiliar technology.

Over the past few years, I've observed three core dimensions to this particular brand of FUD:
1. Terminator syndrome: Yes, that Terminator! Where the machines rise up to brutally enslave humanity. To many, self-service technologies represent the end of "high-touch" customer service and the emergence of a scary new world where people are no longer in charge.
2. On hold, no one can hear you scream. Okay, that's a rip off from the movie Alien but it's a sentiment that most of us can relate to. Where most self-service implementations fall short is when customers feel like they have no option for human intervention, and opt out of the transaction.
3. Is there anybody out there? One of the common misperceptions regarding self-service technologies is that they're ultimately designed to replace real people. In reality, these technologies are meant to augment and support those working the front line, enabling them to deliver superior customer service.
Of course, these fears are often irrational and unfounded. Most fears are. But it's still a problem because, as any good marketer knows, perception is reality. The bottom line is that we as human beings are not accustomed to dealing with change. More often than not, we don't like it, even if it means it will make our lives easier in the long run.  But as we have seen with every new technology from the cotton gin through ATMs, fax machines, PCs and, yes, self-checkout, there is a period and process of education and familiarization. Microsoft and Apple recognize this fact. Each time they introduce a new operating system or product, they spend a great deal of money and resources to re-educate their user base because they understand that people don't like to re-learn what they already know.

For purveyors of self-service technologies, fighting FUD is critical to long-term market success. It's less about changing behaviors than it is about evolving attitudes. Here are a few best practices that we've learned along the way that can be applied to a variety of self-service technology scenarios:
1. Prominent signage with clear instructions — When introducing a new self-service technology into a store environment, it's vital that customers understand what the technology is and how exactly it will benefit them. Will it save time? Provide better information? Assume nothing and spell it out in a clear, compelling and consumer-friendly manner.

2. Train the front line — When grocery stores began implementing self-checkout technologies, one of the hard lessons they learned was that customers quickly grew frustrated and upset if there wasn't someone available to assist them. A well-trained front line worker also can be a great ambassador for introducing self-service technologies to help nip FUD in the bud. 

3. Know your audience — Gender, socio-economic status and general comfort with technology are just a few aspects that have a bearing on how a new technology will be received and ultimately embraced. One size does not fit all. Spending time upfront conducting small focus groups will help demonstrate how consumers will react to new technologies. (One of the interesting things we discovered when we first began testing our technology was that people had been conditioned never to touch a computer screen. Consequently, we had to make it very obvious that it was okay to touch the screen!)

4. Extend the brand experience — Creating a seamless brand experience — from the store door across the store floor and even once the consumer has got the product home — will go a long way toward ensuring that shoppers engage with new technologies. By working closely with merchandising managers to ensure that branding is consistent, consumers will be less averse to trying something new.

5. Be patient — Rome wasn't built in a day. There's a comfort curve with every new technology implementation so expect that it will take between six and 12 months, on average, before new in-store technologies enjoy widespread adoption. Be sure to test self-service technologies in different parts of the store to better understand where and how customers are most likely to use them.
The next generation of self-service technologies undoubtedly will improve business efficiency.  We have found that adding Experticity's live, on-screen person element, expanding "self-service" to "assisted service," not only makes the technology warmer and more user-friendly, but also enables far more effective deployment and distribution of costly expert service. However, what promises to improve the experience for one person might strike fear into the heart of another. Through thoughtful, effective implementation, we can strike a balance and eliminate the FUD factor once and for all.
D.L. Baron is founder and chief executive of Experticity, a developer of live on-screen expert staffing and remote service technologies.
Posted by: D.L. Baron AT 11:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
EDITOR'S NOTE: To view comments on this article and submit your own, CLICK HERE.
If you ever want to know how well a given business program is working, you can spend money on focus groups and surveys. Or, you can just ask a child.

My five-year-old son and I were walking through Wal-Mart the other day, when he noticed the "Wal-Mart TV" screens for the first time. We've spent plenty of hours in Wal-Marts before, but the screens had always escaped his gaze (perhaps because they're mounted at heights that give an adult a neck-ache).

But today, he says to me: "Daddy, that's the TV channel that only shows commercials."

An exclamation mark appeared in the air over my head. Why yes, son, that’s right – it's a TV channel with no programs, only commercials.

Now honestly, how many of you would watch such a channel if you were at home? A few of you might have just raised your hands – marketers and ad-men and ad-women and connoisseurs of the art form of the commercial – but for most of us, a network of all commercials, all the time is a nightmare that sends us scrambling for the big, friendly TiVo button.

But there is no TiVo button in a store, only a growing number of screens that the shopper cannot get away from.

In-store media is a powerful tool, and when it is properly done, consumers love it. When the content is entertaining and place-appropriate, it feels like a benefit to the shopper. When the content is nothing but ads, it feels like an intrusion into the shopper's privacy.

Blame the all-too-human nature to be pennywise and pound-foolish. Many retailers, having just written the not-insignificant check for the screens and the software and the installation of their new digital signage program, turn to face the content beast and say, "Oh, wait, we can save some money here by using ads we're already running on television or the Web."

And yes, you can. You can also hire terrible customer service people to save a few dollars in the short-term. How well does that strategy work?

In-store media, evolving thing that it is, is a massively complex touch point between you and your customer. Give it the attention and intelligence it deserves. Do not let it become your company's version of the TV channel that only shows commercials.
SEE ALSO: The top 10 digital signage deployment blunders
Posted by: James Bickers AT 11:45 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
You've probably seen a kiosk that has an error message on its screen or even a kiosk that has a blank screen. A non-functioning kiosk is worse than no kiosk at all. It undermines the consumer's trust in a reliable source of content or their trust in the capabilities of the provider.
Sure, we all pretty much understand that computers are not perfect and will need some maintenance from time to time, and that not every company has world-class IT support teams. But you can implement systems that will alert your team when something goes awry, or reboots itself in an attempt to clear the problem. Sadly, many companies that implement kiosks don't want to consider these possibilities, or they are the first thing in the budget that gets axed when trying to make the numbers work. Ongoing maintenance and support are important considerations. On-site warranty from hardware manufacturers, combined with good software infrastructure and a plan, are the basics of maximizing uptime.
But one thing that is perhaps even worse than a non-functioning kiosk is a kiosk that is well designed, has good signage, has a good purpose and then fails to deliver on its promise. I recently saw an example of this at Cincinnati's airport. As you enter the baggage claim area there are two large stations of three kiosks each that promise the visitor hotel information and courtesy phones. When you approach the screen, you see three links: Hotel Courtesy Phone, Visitor Information and Kiosk/Airport advertising information. Obviously, this was put together by whoever has a lock on airport advertising, otherwise why would you give that last topic such importance for a visitor kiosk? When you click on “Hotel Courtesy Phone” you get a page with a bunch of logos of local hotels and basic information on them. This is helpful content for the traveler. If you click a button, it promises to call that hotel for you so you can book a room.
But the phone dialing did not work.
So I tried the Visitor Information in hopes of finding out what to do around town, where to eat, shop and perhaps some quick local history. Nope. The page loaded with a simple but terrible message: "Content coming soon."
I can tell you that these kiosks had already been deployed for months, and still there was no content.
I was disappointed. I was let down by the content provider, not the hardware or operating system. It was simply a lazy provider of content that did not live up to their promise to the consumer.
I wanted to voice my dissatisfaction so I clicked the third link to learn about airport advertising and find the company responsible for the content. But guess what, I found the same "Content coming soon" message on this screen. So even if I wanted to add my hotel to the list, or find out how to help this content provider, I could not. I had to shake my head and let out a slight chuckle that can only come from someone in the business. I should have sat nearby to see how many other visitors would come away from the kiosks with a positive experience. I'm sure I'd have been sitting for many hours.
I was able to find the name of the company responsible for the kiosks and I attempted to look up its Web site on my Blackberry browser. The site was empty too.
However, I just checked it again from my PC at work and it forwards to another site which is also light in actual content, and overly complex in design. They will show rate cards for some items, but not the kiosks. They do digital signage and promotions within the airport. It appears that this is their first airport market.
The kiosk hardware is nice enough, these use a good brand of kiosk enclosures, with touchscreens and phone handsets. I even liked how the power cords were nicely covered where they run into the wall and plugged into a power source in a room behind the wall. Nicely done! So I can find no fault in the hardware installation, no fault in the operating system and the screen design was even decent. But the most basic element, the content, was limited or missing. The opportunity was there, and they missed it. How many people tried to get some value from these kiosks during their first months of deployment and were also disappointed? Those visitors will likely never walk up to those kiosks again. You get one chance to make a first impression and you had better not mess it up. A returning guest at your kiosk will cut you a break when you have a temporary hardware/software failure, but that's because they already like the product you deliver, which is the content. A first-time guest will not give you any slack and will not likely return.
Editor's note:  This essay was originally published on Tim Burke's blog in an entry dated Monday, Nov. 5, 2007. Since then, Burke says he was contacted by the content provider, who gave him the following statement:
"We are not offended at all. In fact, we appreciated the input. 
The kiosks are intended to be a fun and simple communication device for passengers to reach hotels, and not as much an informative device. But you make some valid points. We shouldn't have advertised the fact that we have visitor information and not have any. Buttons that don't work are worse than no buttons at all. This is something we would have never known without your input."
Burke praised the content provider's response and noted that these are common issues that deployers are frequently plagued with. Issues notwithstanding, he added that it's important for deployers to make sure that content is prepared before launching the deployment.
Tim Burke is on the owner of Electronic Art. His blog can be viewed here.
Posted by: Tim Burke AT 10:37 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 04 March 2008
I’ve been in the self-service kiosk industry for nearly 15 years and completed hundreds of kiosk projects. The first kiosk project I was involved with was funded by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) right after the Northridge earthquake in 1994. 
In those days, a state-of-the art kiosk used an IBM 286 with the largest available hard drive, which at that time, consisted of 4GB. If you wanted rich media content with video, you had to master large laser discs — quite an expensive proposition when you want to change or modify content. This was the pre-Internet era when a dedicated T-1 line cost $2,200 per month. Back in 1994, the ability of physically handicapped individuals to access a kiosk was not really considered on any project. No real surprise, since regulations often occur after something is developed or demand creates equal access rules. 
Sure ADA was law, but hardly anyone knew how to decipher it.

Today, it is a much different story. The advances in technology are evident with that same hard drive (memory) being easily found in a camera card or USB micro drive. Multiple kiosks are found in nearly every grocery store for various types of applications. 
It’s true for regulations as well. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is in full force with a number of rules applying to kiosks.

ADA History
Signed into law by President George Bush Sr. on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is undeniably the most comprehensive formulation of disability rights in the history of the United States or of any other nation. More than 50 million Americans have some kind of physical, sensory, cognitive or mental disability. At its core, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public services provided by state and local governments, public services operated by private entities, transportation and telecommunications.
 ADA regulations place far-reaching provisions and definite laws for employment, state and local government, transportation, public accommodations and telecommunications. ADA law has three specific titles. Title I addresses employment and prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title II addresses access to programs, activities and services of public entities and prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title III addresses public accommodations by private business and prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
Who Regulates ADA?
The US Architectural & Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) or "Access Board" oversees the Americans with Disabilities Act and related matters such as compliance issues, clarification, guidance etc. The ADA accessibility guidelines specifically mention ATMs, but not kiosks. The question is whether ADA and accessibility guidelines cover kiosks and information transaction machines (ITMs), as well as ATMs. The conclusion from the Accessibility Board is that interactive kiosks are covered under ADA, and that the accessibility guidelines are the best relevant guidance available.

So let’s break down ADA specific to kiosks and determine if ADA law applies to your self-service project. We’ll start by asking a few qualifying questions.

1. Is the kiosk going to be used in a public environment? If Yes, ADA applies.

2. Is the kiosk going to be used internally only for employee use? If Yes, ADA applies.

3. Is the kiosk operated by a Federal, State, City or other governmental organization? If Yes, ADA applies.

4. Does the kiosk or any portion of the project receive any Federal funds?  If, Yes, ADA applies.  In addition, Section 508 Guidelines are in force.
ADA and Kiosks
Let’s break down ADA as it applies to kiosks. Basically, ADA laws ensure the kiosk owner will provide equal access for persons with disabilities. This means hearing and visually impaired individuals and persons with physical disabilities who may be confined to a wheelchair must have access in the same manner that an individual who has no physical disability does. In a self-service kiosk application, this not only applies to accessibility to the kiosk but also to the touchscreen and other peripherals, such as a keyboard, bill acceptor, printer, etc.

This Redbox kiosk meets current ADA regulations.

First, let’s review access to the kiosk. ADA law states there must be clear accessibility to the kiosk. In other words, enough room so a person in a wheelchair can maneuver to the screen and gain access.  The law requires at least 34-inches of clear space directly in front of the kiosk for persons in wheel chairs.  If there is a requirement for access from the side, then there must be 34-inches of clear side access as well. 
Second, let’s review access to the touchscreen and components. The law provides ranges of maximum and minimum height for components with unobstructed and obstructed forward reach and unobstructed and obstructed side reach.  
"Unobstructed reach" can be defined as a kiosk system that has no large protruding extension which would prevent or hinder a person interacting with the component. "Obstructed reach" is defined as a kiosk system that would contain a large shelf/counter and/or have a recessed monitor that would limit access to the component by the user. Here are front reach and side reach access as defined in ADA law:

• Front reach unobstructed access — Minimum of 15-inches from the floor and maximum of 48-inches high from the floor.

• Front reach obstructed access — Set back of zero to 20-inches with maximum of 48-inches high from the floor for the component. The law will allow a set back of 25-inches, but the maximum height drops to 44-inches high from the floor.

• Side reach unobstructed access — Maximum of 48-inches from the floor.

• Side reach obstructed access — Set back of zero to 10 inches with maximum of 48 inches from the floor for the component. If the set back is within the range of 10 inches to 24 inches, then the maximum height drops to 44 inches from the floor.

Here’s where ADA gets tricky. Placement of components also determines maximum height. A shelf should range from 28 inches to a maximum of 32 inches from the floor. This should serve as a good benchmark for input components such as a keyboard, credit-card reader, pin pad, etc. Additionally, individual components or functions may require guidance outside of simple access to the kiosk and its components. For example, if the kiosk has a telephone handset, then ADA specifies the type of handset and functional requirements needed. Likewise, if the application has audio, then ADA defines how to address individuals with a hearing impairment. Lastly, signage elements for components and directions placed on the kiosk will require raised characters and other provisions listed in ADA Chapter 7.

In summary, I have yet to see any project be exempt from ADA regulations, so I am very confident ADA applies to any kiosk project. The process of understanding ADA can be complicated so it is important you conduct proper research to determine the kiosk meets ADA law. I encourage you to use the “if then” process for every component and function. Build a matrix to ensure compliance. The matrix should be something like: If your kiosk uses a touchscreen, then the maximum height of the monitor should not exceed 48 inches. If it's using a touchscreen, then these (Specify) type(s) of touch technologies comply with ADA. If it uses a shelf, then the maximum height of the shelf should not exceed 32 inches. If it uses a telephone handset, then the height shall conform to ADA guidelines (Chapter 3, 308 Reach Ranges) and audio controls must meet guidelines (Chapter 7, 704 Telephones). The process of understanding ADA can be overwhelming, but with proper research and planning, complying with ADA law can be accomplished.
Online Resources
ADA Home Page
Reach Ranges
Accessibility Standards for Accessible Design
Section 508 - Federal Buying Standards
Posted by: Derek Fretheim AT 10:35 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Anyone who thinks self-service is a boring industry obviously hasn’t been reading the news lately.
Seriously. I’ve seen some real zingers cross my e-mail in the past few weeks. Check out this Associated Press story, for example. No, there’s no need to hit that refresh button, you read it right. A drug store in Los Angeles has deployed self-service kiosks to dispense medical marijuana. Hash for cash, so to speak. Not only did this controversial deployment raise the eyebrows of some of us here in the office, but it also caught the attention of the good folks at the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board in Vienna, who quickly ruled that the machines are illegal and should be shut down. Given that the U.N. has no binding legislative authority in California, it’s doubtful anyone at the drug store is pulling the plug just yet.
Then there’s this story coming out of Union City, Ind. Anyone who’s been in this industry for more than two weeks knows all about the DVD rental kiosks now available at fast food joints. The kiosks enable users to rent copies of the latest movie releases which are viewable for a pre-specified rental period. Well apparently, they’ve stirred quite a controversy in this one little town. It seems parents are worried that the kiosks will provide minors with unsupervised access to movies containing adult material — that Little Johnnie and his preschool buddies might decide to pick up “Fatal Attraction” with their happy meals. So the townsfolk took their case to City Hall and when the city threatened the deployer with a public nuisance citation, the deployer decided to remove all R-rated movie titles from the kiosk’s stock.
These news stories were the material of some great philosophical chatter around the coffee machine here, and not surprisingly, were among the most widely read stories on I don’t mention them here to declare who was right or who was wrong in each instance, but to make a valid business point. These two seemingly unrelated stories both dredge up an issue that will become increasingly important as self-service continues to grow.
That issue can be summed up in one word: culpability.
*                      *                      *
Sure, kiosk deployers know exactly how their products are to be used as well as who is supposed to use them (and who isn’t). But what if the kiosk user decides to take matters into their own hands? What if a disgruntled teenager hits your drug store kiosk and overdoses on Tylenol? Suppose a man who isn’t suffering from any medical condition manages to get a packet from the marijuana kiosk and is arrested later that night in another state? Add to that the people who inadvertently get into trouble, such as the five-year-old who slips a few quarters into a machine, buys a laser pen and burns out his retina.
They’re all disturbing cases, but what do they mean for the deployers? Are they liable for civil damages just because the consumer abused (or misunderstood) the use of the product?
I took the question to Gail Ritzert, a partner at Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale LLP, a law firm in New York.
Ritzert, an expert in product liability law, likened products purchased through a self-service kiosk to products bought online or via a more conventional vending machine. In these cases, she said the responsibility is on the deployer or site administrator to take “reasonable” precautions to make sure that the consumer who is purchasing the product is who they should be … and knows how to use it.
“This kiosk, while it’s not a person, is standing in the place of a seller or a store that is distributing the product,” she said. “What reasonable steps were in place to make sure that you did what could be done to eliminate the person who should not have access to what the product is?”
Unfortunately, she says the legal definition of “reasonable” can vary on a case-by-case basis.
“What I would say to the manufacturers and those who are distributing the product is: Make sure that you check the product because you’re not going to have control over the person who uses the machine,” she said. “That being said, depending upon the software that is used, there are some things that could probably be built in to make sure that there are certain triggers on different things.”
Making sure all of the products in the kiosk have proper warning labels can be a good start, she says. She adds that — for some age-specific products — it might be a good idea to require the consumer to verify that they are above a certain age range. This can be done via a push button or touchscreen interface.
While that may not stop underage consumers from obtaining something they shouldn’t, it will likely demonstrate — to a jury if necessary — that the deployer was taking some steps to protect them.
“We can’t eliminate all misuse,” she said. “But again, the question it comes down to is: Were reasonable steps taken to make sure that directions or age appropriateness were followed?”
*                      *                      *
In the meantime, keep your eyes on the developments in Los Angeles and in Union City. The outcomes in both instances will no doubt have a significant impact on the types of products that will or won’t be offered at a kiosk near you in the future. In the meantime, feel free to check for all the latest on these two cases. We’ll be here to “hash” out the details.
Posted by: Travis K. Kircher AT 10:30 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 04 December 2007
In the early 1980s, Games magazine used an experimental bit of technology to raise the eyebrows of its readers.
Taking advantage of a printing technology that was cutting edge at the time (and still seldom used today), the magazine customized one of the puzzles within its pages with the actual name of the subscriber. The result was an entire community of readers who were dumbfounded to solve a puzzle, only to find their name included in the solution.
Flash forward two decades later to the first major-label song to be released as an official MP3 download without digital copy protection. The song was “A Public Affair” by Jessica Simpson, and aside from the DRM issue, it was notable for another reason: Simpson recorded hundreds of different names for one particular lyric. The end result was that customers could buy a song in which the star was singing directly to them, addressing them by name.
A novelty? In both cases, most certainly. But both examples lead to a finer point: Make customers feel special, and you will make an impact. For any interaction you have with them, do all you can to make it all about them. If you ask customers to swipe a loyalty card through a device and then fail to greet them by their name, you’re missing an opportunity. Dale Carnegie was right: The sweetest sound to any person is the sound of his own name.
Interactive digital signage represents one of the newest, most exciting ways to make this happen since the introduction of on-demand printing. By adding a layer of interactivity to out-of-home digital media, businesses can engage their customers in a very high-impact transaction — one that can be memorable on every level — while still taking care of business.
Recent months have seen several companies experiment with through-the-window touchscreens, which allow shoppers outside a store to determine what is shown on-screen inside. Kiosks connected to public screen networks allow patrons to queue up preferences for the larger viewing public. And we only are at the beginning of the exploration of SMS’s potential, a potential that seems limitless given the proliferation of capable cell phones and equally capable thumbs.
The move from one-to-many messaging to one-to-one messaging is as big a shift as business has ever encountered. Technology makes it possible, but it is the people behind the technology that make it make sense. If the builders and deployers of these systems can keep their focus primarily on the people who will be using them, they are destined to succeed in ways not yet fully comprehended.
Posted by: James Bickers AT 11:04 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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, 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.
Posted by: Joseph Grove AT 11:07 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 10 September 2007
The last several years have witnessed an explosion in emerging technology such as mobile phones, online video, rich Internet applications and social computing applications (blogs, MySpace, Second Life). But the in-person self-service industry hasn’t kept up with the pace of innovation in other channels.
Poor kiosk usability keeps firms focused on the basics and vendors stifle innovation by acquiescing to client demands. There are few new software applications, and only a small number of stand-out kiosks dot the sea of uninspiring physical enclosures. As a result, in-person self-service experiences leave much to be desired — and in tomorrow’s world, mediocre customer experiences just won’t cut it.
So what does the future of in-person self-service look like? As the focus shifts from the self-service kiosk to the self-empowered customer, in-person self-service will become device-agnostic. Look for technologies such as RFID, mobile phone cameras, wearable computing, Wi-Fi and WiMAX to integrate with one another to provide the customer with the ability to gather information or process transactions that will be based less on physical hardware and more on helping users achieve their goals. In short, the user experience will hog the spotlight.
Software applications will become more personal: They will understand contextual information, incorporate consumers’ personal devices, bridge offline and online experiences, and embrace consumers’ desire to connect with each other. For example:
  • When Nike launched its Nike ID custom sneakers, it worked with interactive agency R/GA to create a 22-story interactive billboard in Times Square that invited passersby to configure their own sneakers through their mobile phones — and then displayed the results for all of Times Square to see. A code sent back to the users’ phones allowed them to log on to the Nike ID Web site in order to view and purchase their masterpieces.
  • Microsoft Surface is a tabletop-embedded display that allows users to seamlessly interact with online content and personal physical objects such as cameras and cell phones through its slick, multiuser touchscreen interface.
  • At the National Retail Federation’s 2007 conference, interactive agency IconNicholson demonstrated a digital dressing room that allows shoppers in physical retail stores to solicit their friends’ opinions over the Internet when trying on clothes.
In the future, hardware elements will become more engaging. Large-scale displays will enable groups of users to consume and interact with information; new display surfaces will encourage playful interactions; and devices will merge with the environment to create more integrated experiences. For example:
  • For Virgin’s Megastore in Times Square GestureTek used a combination of overhead projectors, mirrors and cameras to develop an interactive floor display that users can manipulate by stepping on different areas of the projection.
  • FogScreen and Netkey joined forces to create an interactive fog display that can be installed in the middle of any large room. Users can draw on the “screen” or select interface elements through physical gestures, and then walk right through the display.
  • The Verizon Experience store — another concept designed and developed by R/GA — seamlessly integrates more than 70 interactive touchscreens into the architecture and interior design of the 5,000 square foot retail location.
What do these changes mean? First, savvy marketing execs won’t hesitate to take their business to proven customer experience leaders, so self-service hardware and software vendors must embrace the user-centered methods and tools of the design world or risk losing work to interactive agencies that use these methods. Second, as future in-person self-service deployments more closely marry technology with environmental design, architecture and commercial interior design experts will become the next groups of superstars. And perhaps most importantly, consumers can look forward to more engaging and meaningful self-service interactions, which will translate into improved efficiencies and increased revenues for businesses.
The writer is a principal analyst for Forrester Research.
Posted by: Kerry Bodine AT 12:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 15 June 2007
Bill Lynch is on the Self-Service & Kiosk Association Advisory Board and vice president of Self Service Solutions for Source Technologies, a provider of financial self-service kiosks and printers.
Retail self-service is catching on and everyone’s getting in on the act, as evidenced by hundreds of vendors and increasing adoption rates. According to NCR, 39 percent of consumers are willing to use timesaving self-service alternatives to help reduce their wait times. Consequently, kiosks in North American retail locations have increased 69 percent since 2004, according to KioskCom's Self Service Expo. 
The growing momentum of self-service transactions reveals a higher confidence in non-traditional delivery channels such as self-service kiosks. All businesses should carefully evaluate their approach to self-service and consider the positive impact of deploying services through feature-rich self-service kiosks.
In this new culture of convenience, the real question for consumers is not “may I help you?” but “how would you like to be helped?
Consumers are becoming more comfortable interacting with kiosk technology, even in the sensitive area of money handling. In fact, they increasingly trust automation as much if not more than the traditional person-to-person service.
The rapid growth of self-service technology is leading to a migration of transactions from traditional retail environments to other, more convenient locations driven by consumer demand.  Thus, the kiosk becomes a customer service strategy just like online banking, personal service, call-center support, etc. The objective is to reach the customer when and where he chooses.
So instead of forcing kiosks on customers, the real task becomes identifying the optimal transaction solution for every activity, in any setting, then educating the customer on how to use the new technology. When kiosks provide the right technology solution for self-service, consumers are happy to embrace them once they understand how they meet their needs for convenience and service.
For example, let’s look at bill payment. Historically, bill payment involved someone sending a check through the mail or presenting it in-person. Today consumers who want to pay bills may chose between many options, including online bill payment, paying by mail or paying in-person with either a check, cash, debit card, credit card and money order. 
Despite the vast impact of the Internet and electronic payments, there remain customers who prefer to pay in-person or who do not have traditional banking relationships. In fact, this particular demographic is significant: according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, 40 million U.S. consumers are unbanked or underbanked.
The kiosk is an optimal solution for delivering convenient service to the unbanked as well as for those who may have bank accounts but prefer to pay in person. The utility and wireless industry demonstrates the success of bill payment kiosks, with some providers like cable company Cox Communications having tremendous success with transitioning bill-payments from manual to automation. 
Bruce Beeco, director of Technical Architecture for Cox Communications said “Because these kiosks have the ability to accept all forms of payment and apply them to the accounts in real time, the kiosks are extremely popular with Cox customers. In Baton Rouge, for example, if a kiosk went down, the customer service reps would not be able to handle the workload when it comes to the sheer number of bill payments that customers make. That’s how important [the kiosks] are.”
Businesses embracing expanded self-service offerings realize the benefits of consumer-driven service where the customer can choose his method of business interaction. Kiosk adopters capitalize on this trend by differentiating themselves with self-service portfolios that appeal to today’s convenience-oriented consumer. In addition, self-service kiosks offer many operational benefits by reducing manual tasks for employees, which yields improvements in overhead costs, labor requirements, transaction accuracy and reduced risk of human error.
It is wise to approach this market shift as a response to consumer preferences for self-service transactions already evident in the marketplace. Assisted self-service is already prevalent in applications such as self-checkout lanes at grocery stores, airport self check-in lanes and gas station “pay-at-the-pump” option, where there is an attendant available to assist and sometimes help complete the transaction. Total self-service involves the customer interacting with the kiosk only, as is the case with bill payment. These options are now viewed as an “added value” to convenience and customer service. Kiosks give you an edge, not just another option. 
The convenience challenge
Once you understand the value of kiosks in providing consumer-driven service, how do you sell this concept throughout the organization? Even today, shifting management culture to emphasize customer-oriented delivery solutions rather than the traditional focus on specific technologies can still represent a significant change of thinking. 
Managers should emphasize self-service as a business strategy that weaves numerous technologies and distribution channels together into a self-service portfolio, rather than focusing on one specific device. Businesses will achieve more benefits by implementing the self-service solution that best matches the needs of its key customer groups.  
Businesses that embrace the market shift to a broad view of service options will differentiate themselves by providing more customer choice in service delivery. In this new culture of convenience, the real question for consumers is not “may I help you?” but “how would you like to be helped?” 
Decision makers should carefully evaluate their organization’s approach to self-service and consider the positive impact of providing these options. Kiosks are a distinct part of a company’s portfolio of self-service options and add value for progressive businesses that are willing to invest in convenient, feature-rich technologies for their customers.

Posted by: Bill Lynch AT 12:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 21 May 2007
I have bought into the idea of global warming. It took awhile, but having to blast the A/C in late March convinced me. So when I needed a new lawnmower this month, I decided to go green and buy an old-fashioned push mower — the kind where muscle, not gas, turns the wheels and spins the blades.
I expected them to be easy to find, given our heightened sensitivity to greenhouse gases, but they weren’t. The Wal-Mart I visited didn’t have any, and the closest Sears only had a couple, the nicer of which was on sale for $79. Burning more gas than the new mower would save me all year, I drove to a third store, a Lowe’s. That is where I met Steve.
Steve and the two people on the floor with him are a kiosk’s best friends. Here’s why:
First, Steve acknowledged me in a friendly way as soon as I walked up to him. He apologized for not seeing me first. After I told him what I was looking for, he knew exactly where the items were and showed me the two types in stock. The one comparable to the Sears model, however, was $10 more, and I told him I intended to go back for that one. And then he went to work.
He explained that it was his first day in the department, and he did not want to lose the sale. He found a manager and got permission to knock the 10 bucks off the price, to match the Sears price. Sold.
I grabbed a box with the new mower and hoisted it on my burly shoulder, and while Steve entered the information, another colleague volunteered to get a cart for me, which he did with alacrity. When I was ready to check out, only one cashier was present among a row of self-checkout units.
I was elated. Not only did my business matter, but the impression was that I mattered. Will I go back to Lowe’s? I can’t wait.
The upside for self-service can be found by contrasting the Lowe’s experience with the story that came out of Home Depot.
When Home Depot fired CEO Bob Nardelli in January, one factor cited was that while he embraced self-service, he did not reinvest the savings by moving displaced cashiers to the sales floor. As a result, customers abandoned the store, often saying that service and the expertise of its workers was no longer up to snuff.
The difference, then, between a thriving home-improvement store and a declining one may not be much more complex than this: Self-service works in some parts of the store, such as up front, when your new lawnmower has been put in the cart for you. But if you’re going to ask me to ring up myself, make sure you’ve got a Steve in back to help me pick the thing out — and sometimes go the extra mile to earn my business.
Posted by: Joseph Grove AT 10:12 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
*Editor's note: Mark Ozawa is managing director of Accuvia Consulting, a leading boutique consulting firm focusing on technology and systems solutions for the lodging, foodservice and retail industries around the world.
Guest and customer interest in self-service options continues to grow and, as a result, kiosks and other self-service devices are appearing in more and more retail, lodging and foodservice locations. Although existing technological capabilities in the user interfaces limit the ways in which devices can be used, new capabilities in technology will permit operators to find more ways to use them for self-service.
A very significant enhancement is coming in user interfaces. For instance, some systems coming out of the lab allow users to interact and manipulate items on a display with nothing more complicated than their fingers. Very complex tasks can be accomplished without a mouse or a keyboard. Moreover, the displays can recognize multiple points of contact at the same time and very natural finger gestures. They even can be heat sensitive and capable of interacting with multiple users at once.
Imagine you approach what appears to be a nice glass-topped table but it is, in fact, a large, horizontal, touchscreen. You touch an icon of a folder marked “Images.” The folder opens and a group of images spill out just as if you had taken a set of photos and dropped them on the surface of the table. Using your finger, you spread the images apart and move them around the desktop just like you would spread pictures on your table. Selecting one image, you take a picture and, using your fingers, you “pull” the opposite corners of the image. As you do so, the picture gets bigger. Then, you “spin” the image, which turns within the display. It is 3-D, so you can see all sides of the item in the image.
Now imagine you are seated at a table in a local restaurant. Instead of giving you a menu, the greeter touches a menu icon on your table. She “slides” a menu image with her finger and puts it in front of each diner. She clicks each image and each menu grows into full size. Each diner “turns” the pages of the menu by dragging the right edge of the page to the left.
Each menu item is accompanied by an image. Diners can use their fingers to “pull” the images into a larger image. By clicking a question mark icon next to the image, nutrition information appears along with preparation details. Suggestions for other items appear next to the selected ones.
Or, in your local clothing store, you pick out a nice shirt. You go to an interactive table and enter the item number on a keyboard displayed on the surface. An image of your shirt appears along with various icons. You are looking for other clothes in the store that might go well with this shirt, so you touch an icon and options for pants, jackets and accessories appear. You touch on the pants icon and images of various pants appear on the desktop.
You can manipulate each image with your fingers, making them larger and allowing you to see all sides of each garment. You “discard” those that don’t appeal to you. Selecting a pair of pants you want to see, you click the image and a 3-D map of the store appears with the location of the pants marked.
In your hotel room, you have an interactive tabletop instead of the traditional desk. One of the available options is an electronic concierge. Touching an icon brings up a map of the area around your hotel. You can “pull” the map in opposite directions to enlarge a section into an expanded view. Icons appear marking restaurants, bars and other points of interest.
You touch the icon of a restaurant that seems interesting to you and information about the restaurant appears. Because the image is 3-D, you can manipulate the map into a view of the city you can expect to see as you walk to the restaurant.
This new interface has two significant advantages over current technology. Most important, it is very intuitive and easy to use. Second, the interface allows the user to access deeper levels of information easily, which allows the self-service device to provide more and better data than often can be obtained from a staff person. This new interface will launch many new ways for operators to enhance customer service with self-service devices.

Posted by: Mark Ozawa AT 10:17 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 07 May 2007
Let’s face it. Traveling can be stressful. No one likes long lines, crowds, a lack of information or lack of choices when going to airports. Thankfully, airports have been in the forefront of self-service to help deal with the enormous volumes of travelers that go through airports each day.
Checking in
The airline industry is constantly in the news and most of it is negative: stranded passengers, long delays, lost luggage and bankruptcies. However, airports and  airlines have really led the way in the use of self-service check-in kiosks. When introduced several years ago, airline personnel assisted customers as many interacted with the devices for the first time. Customers learned how easy they were to use and now many frequent fliers have completely embraced the technology. As airlines are now discovering, kiosks can also serve passengers in multiple languages.
While many customers have embraced self-service check-in, there are still large numbers of first-time or occasional flyers that need encouragement or direction in using the kiosk. For those who have become accustomed to the speed of the check-in process using a kiosk, the wait and confusion of infrequent users can be frustrating.
Another frustration can come when kiosks are down. US Airways learned this recently when the airline merged its reservation system with America West’s the first weekend in March. Massive delays ensued at kiosks the first few days and glitches continued throughout March.
Customers are not the only ones reaping the benefits of self check-in. Air Canada recently stated that it spends 16 cents to check in a traveler through a kiosk versus $3 through a staffed counter.  And the 2006 SITA survey stated that the airline industry’s move toward self-service is saving it billions of dollars.
Continental bragged about its 1,000th kiosk deployment last year in a press release, claiming to have more kiosks per customer than any other airline. Continental has also implemented application acceleration technology which speeds up the transaction time on kiosks.
Once limited to domestic flights, self-check-in is now available to international travelers as passport scanners have been added to newer models.
There has been much interest in common use self-service (CUSS), where airports manage the check-in kiosks rather than the airlines. Las Vegas’s McCarran Airport as well as several airports in Europe have implemented the system. The main benefit for airports is better utilization of space and flow for check-in. Another promise of CUSS is to enable more possibilities for remote check-in, such as convention centers, hotels and airport parking.
Safe and secure
After checking in, the next stage of self-service adoption is coming to security. Airports are continuing to roll-out registered traveler programs that help frequent fliers speed through security after completing a background check and paying a fee. Shoe scanners are a new addition to the effort to make going through security more effortless.
The U.S. and Canada have recently agreed on the use of border security kiosks through the NEXUS program at Canadian airports for travelers who cross the border frequently.
Biometrics is increasingly being used at security, such as iris recognition, fingerprint scans and facial recognition technology. There is also a growing acceptance of biometrics among consumers as they become more educated about its use and recognize the benefits.
Trying to bring it all together and simplify air travel, the Hong Kong Airport Authority, Immigration Department and Cathay Pacific are engaged in a six-month trial of a new kiosk that integrates immigration, boarding and luggage.
The restrictions on liquids at security have proved a challenge for airports and passengers alike. Entrepreneurial companies like Mail Safe Express have sprung up offering to ship banned items home. At Chicago O’Hare, security officers direct passengers who want to ship these items to a touchscreen kiosk. The 60-day test was deemed successful enough to implement them at nearby Midway Airport.
Automated retail
Once through security, passengers become shoppers if they have time before their flight. ZoomSystems has taken vending to a whole new level, enabling people to buy high-end items such as iPods and Bose headsets through modern vending machines. 
Sony has gotten into the act by selling its products through a Sony-branded kiosk called Access. At the recent GlobalShop show in Las Vegas, retail fixtures manufacturer idX displayed its new automated store, Shop Robotic. With products brightly displayed so near the glass that you feel like you can reach out and touch them, watching items be dispensed is a fascinating part of the experience.
At your service
Staffed information counters with brochure racks are a common site in airports. Chicago O’Hare has recently installed an interactive touchscreen kiosk that provides travel information to visitors. The kiosk, which officials are calling a “virtual concierge,” provides airport, hotel, transportation and weather information in seven languages.
Smarte Carte, makers of the ubiquitous luggage carts for rental, now outfit their lockers with touchscreens. The company has also introduced cell phone charging kiosks.
As the majority of passengers and airport visitors carry cell phones, it’s no surprise that pay phone usage has decreased dramatically. As a testament, some pay phone stations have been replaced by internet access kiosks. While internet access kiosks still have promise outside the U.S., within the country the growth has probably peaked since so many people carry laptops or some other wireless internet device with them.
Self-service business centers like PowerPort provide laptop rentals, printing, and recharging stations for electronics. For those passengers that need to recharge their body, automated massage chairs are cropping up as an additional revenue source.
A new product that seems perfect for airports is a self-service document shredder from RealTime Shredding. The machine quietly shreds stacks of paper (including staples or paper clips) as well as CDs. Unloading unwanted confidential documents before or after a flight could be a great service for passengers.
Frequent flyer enrollment
Qatar Airways has initiated an instant frequent-flyer enrollment kiosk for new members at Doha International Airport. Situated in the Qatar Airways Business class lounge at the airport, the kiosk dispenses membership cards immediately after passengers complete their registration.
Ground transportation
In November, Alamo Rent A Car announced that it would roll out self-service kiosks at all its locations in the U.S. after successful tests in Dallas, Las Vegas and Jacksonville, Fla. The company claims that the kiosks reduce check-in time by 50 percent compared to typical counter service. The kiosks use an ID scanning technology by Intelli-Check.
“Self-service eliminates one more hassle from family travel,” said Jerry Dow, Alamo's chief marketing officer in a company release. “Customers are already comfortable using the check-in kiosk for flights, using a self-service kiosk for car rental is a natural progression.”
Like a good employee, the kiosk always suggests an upgrade.
Another innovation from Smarte Carte has been a new kiosk that lets customers use their credit card for a voucher to pay for taxicab fares. The kiosk is being tested in Salt Lake City.
Future developments
Frontier Airlines announced recently that it plans to allow rebooking at kiosks for canceled flights at Denver International Airport. This could be a good way to speed up the process and enable frustrated passengers to make alternative plans.
Digital signage is taking the world by storm and would deserve an article all on its own to do it justice. Interactive digital signage, like the one unveiled at O’Hare last year, is an example of the possibilities out there.
New forms of payment are coming on the scene, ranging from vending machines that accept credit cards for micro payments to biometrics like those implemented by Pay By Touch. Payment using a cell phone has been discussed for a few years and is closer to reality. Rather than using RFID technology like contactless credit cards, chips can be added to phones that will enable them to exchange secure data (like a credit card number) with a reader.
While checking into a flight from home or a hotel is not new, companies like Hilton have tested check-in kiosks at airports. Could CUSS also bring major hotel properties together under one kiosk?
While it’s always difficult to predict the future, one thing seems certain: travel self-service is here to stay.
Posted by: David Drain AT 10:25 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 30 March 2007
Kerry Bodine is a principal analyst on Forrester Research's Customer Experience team.
In 1999, Alan Cooper, author of “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum,” introduced the concept of personas. Personas focus designers on their customers’ needs by presenting the user as a person with a name and face, motivations and goals. This structured practice helps successful firms create products and services for real people.
Through Forrester’s work in the Customer Experience group, we’ve discovered that the most effective personas are:
Based on direct study of individual users
From a firm’s existing market segments, researchers identify real people from each segment for observational studies or in-depth interviews, gathering data from the intended users of the product or service being designed. This process captures the complex goals and behavior of customers — intelligence that surveys and typical focus groups can’t provide.
Presented as a story about a real person
Well-crafted personas are presented as a narrative about a single human with a name and a face. As a result, they’re easy to understand and relate to. The sign of success comes when everyone associated with the project talks about “Paul,” a man who’s worried about his baby’s first cold and needs both guidance and reassurance to buy the right kind of infants’ Tylenol.
Focused on enabling design decisions
Effective personas describe the attitudes, motivations, goals and behavior captured by primary research. Knowing that a customer goes out of her way to avoid sales clerks and always shops by herself can tell designers whether she wants a personal shopping assistant in her favorite online store. Demographics and channel usage are nice extras, but only if they add insight to what users want to do and how they want to do it.
Successful companies use personas to:
Align stakeholders behind a shared understanding of the customer
Because personas are an accessible, easy-to-understand and compelling interface to customer data, they help quell design debates and accurately focus project priorities. Personas provide everyone involved in design decisions — from business owners to designers and developers — with a common understanding of the people who must be able to use a product or service.
Guide design decisions
To design interactive systems that respond appropriately to user inputs, designers need to know user goals, attitudes, behaviors and preferences related to their activity: Personas provide that information. For example, knowing that their primary persona logs into her online account infrequently and wants to minimize the amount of time she spends managing her money enables designers to prioritize functionality like e-mail password recovery over a fund rebalancing tool.
Posted by: Kerry Bodine AT 10:58 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 26 February 2007
The complete version of this article will be published in the April issue of Self-Service World Magazine.
Click here to download a complete PDF chart of Alex's steps.
After two decades of experience as a kiosk vendor to dozens of worldwide retailers and brands, I switched roles. In 2005 I formed Selling Machine Partners, a company that partners with retailers to develop cross-channel strategies, vendor RFPs and project implementations, and, in doing so, I went from being a vendor to being a client.
In this new role I’ve rapidly come to the humbling realization that many of my prior assumptions about customer expectations were misguided and internally focused. And I see many of my talented vendor colleagues in the industry mirroring my mistakes and losing business to savvier, more customer-focused competitors.
Emerging technology decision making at large firms is governed by natural selection, a process that many kiosk providers understand but haven’t mastered.
Here are a few tips to better help your clients:
1. Know the client’s business. As a client, we expect our vendors to be in synch with our company goals, industry background, key management names and competitors. I’m amazed how often I have to prod prospective vendors to turn off their computers, get out of the office and visit our stores to gain a sense of the brand and how our customers interact with store associates.
2. Listen carefully and offer specific suggestions. As a client, when I explain our company’s problem and goals to a vendor, I don’t want a PDF catalog or URL with links to dozens of products in response. I want a few strong recommendations on how to solve my particular problem. I don’t have the expertise or the time to sort through product specifications.
Clients value strong problem-solving skills in their prospective vendors. My clients are numbed by too many long power points that never focus on a specific solution for our situation
3. Provide real information. My vendor heroes are seasoned technology project managers and pre-sales engineers who are authentic, brilliant, great listeners and can stick with the engagement after it is sold. As a marketing guy, I know we need the “sales” team on sales calls, but their job should be to manage the process (and get the coffee/bagels) and keep quiet during the meetings.
Today, clients don’t need or want to be entertained by five-star restaurants or elaborate office décor. Clients want to beat their competitors and enhance customer experience by procuring great, innovative products and services at reasonable prices.

Posted by: Alex Richardson AT 11:24 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 27 November 2006
There’s a very nice lady who works at the grocery store up the street from my house. I’ve never seen her when she wasn’t smiling, and I’ve never talked to her when she didn’t ask how my children are – by name.
Here’s the interesting thing: She wasn’t always like this. She has worked there for years, but until about a year ago, I never spoke to her, even though I often went through her lane.
What happened? The store installed self-checkout, and this wonderful human being got assigned to oversee four of the new lanes.
Before, she was too busy scanning and bagging items, usually with lines backing up and her helpers wandering from lane to lane. She didn’t have much time to talk or be friendly – she had her hands full moving people through.
Now that customers are doing the scanning and bagging themselves, she has time to make conversation, to answer questions, to ask about the kids.
It’s an interesting wrinkle to a story that many retail prophets got all wrong. Self-service, they said, would have a negative impact on customer service, causing people to become more inward than ever. It was going to remove the human touch from industries that were already becoming less and less human, less personable. It was going to be the end of the traditional customer/retailer relationship.
In the coming months and years, we will begin to see that the opposite is in fact true – self-service removes impediments to great service by taking routine, mundane tasks and removing them from the equation. It creates operational efficiencies that make great customer service, the kind our grandparents received from the corner store, possible once more. And it creates technology opportunities to identify customers by name, give them preferential treatment and special offers, and carve out a one-to-one emotional relationship that simply was not possible before.
It’s part of an emerging notion that I’m calling the “everybody concierge” effect – the fact that exceptional, above-and-beyond service can no longer be extended to just the rich and the famous. Smart customers will no longer stand for the fact that Paris Hilton gets treated better than they do. In today’s economy, everybody demands “special” treatment, and the business that learns how to extend that treatment will be the business that survives.
James Bickers edits Self Service World Magazine. This column appears in the current print edition of Self Service World.
Posted by: James Bickers AT 02:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 16 October 2006
David Dill is an educated man with a simple idea: Giving voters proof that their votes were counted correctly. ATMs have receipts, so why not print receipts for voters after they’ve used an electronic voting machine?
Dill launched in 2003 to promote the practice of giving voters and election officials a paper back-up to go along with the widely-deployed e-voting machines of the last few years.
The 2000 presidential election raised the interest in how we vote to an all-time high. After the hanging-chad debacle in Florida, federal legislators passed the Help America Vote Act, which included billions of dollars to upgrade election equipment and improve practices. The advantages of e-voting over the old systems include a faster process, ease of use and more accurate results.
A February report on the 2004 election by the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project attributes one million saved votes to improved voting equipment and procedures after the 2000 election.
Residual votes are ballots cast in which a voter fails to vote or machines fail to record them. In each election, a few people go to the polls but choose not to vote (experts estimate it to be about half of one percent). In the 2004 election, the residual vote was 1.1 percent, down from the 1.9 percent in the 2000 election.
While e-voting machines show provable results in some cases, discrepancies with their record keeping in recent elections have caused more public scrutiny and suspicions about the equipment that was designed to improve obviously flawed and outdated systems. Perhaps in the rush to adopt technology that was a vast improvement over levers and punch cards, the comfort of paper was too quickly overlooked.
Adding to this worry is a recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice. While acknowledging that e-voting systems have yet to be infiltrated, the report cites the potential for systems to be hacked. Elections officials could gain the public’s trust of these new systems by using these guidelines:
A paper trail. Both voters and officials need this assurance to independently verify the results.
Uninterruptible power supply. An electronic power conditioner (think of a sophisticated surge protector) and a battery backup can keep systems running even if the power isn’t.
Wired connections. Some states (California, Minnesota and New York) have banned wireless components from e-voting devices.
Training. Poll workers should be required to train for a certain number of hours before working the polls.
Well-designed forms. Just as poorly designed paper forms have confused voters, e-voting forms must be well laid out.
Secured equipment. Stop “sleepovers,” periods of time before the election during which poll workers keep the machines, oft en at home. This only opens the process to potential tampering.
Availability of paper ballots. In the uncommon occurrence of system failure, paper ballots can be used as a last resort.
In discussing e-voting with colleagues, one said he couldn’t understand why we don’t vote online. He commented that banks had figured out how to make online banking safe and asked: What’s more sensitive than people’s money? Obviously, voters would have to be authenticated. Another colleague suggested assigning each voter an ID number and allowing them to choose a PIN. Advances in biometrics also provide hope for authentication. summarizes the goal of this debate well: “The right to have one’s vote counted properly is a cornerstone of our democratic system. Making sure that our election systems are reliable and publicly verifiable enfranchises voters and increases public confidence and participation in our political process.”
Posted by: David Drain AT 02:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 02 October 2006
Years ago, as a young engineer I was brought into a program that would result in a very successful system used by some members of our armed forces. This particular system was the first of its kind, and the reputations of a lot of people were riding upon its success.
By the time they brought me in, a lot of money had been spent, designs had been drawn, and plans were being made to build and test the system.
During one of the program briefings, a senior engineer made a statement about how the operators would use this system. Being a bit wet behind the ears I raised my hand and asked, “How do we know that?”
When asked what I meant by the question, I simply observed that sitting around the table we had management people, engineering people, fabrication people, finance people and legal people, but none of the people who would ultimately use the system. The silence around the table told the whole story.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago, during a trade show for technology used in the fast food industry. During the show, a panel attempted to address the use of self-service technologies as they applied to fast food. The panel consisted of a moderator, four technology vendors and one analyst familiar with technology in that space.
One by one, the moderator introduced each of the vendors, who spoke about how their new product would revolutionize the way in which walk-in customers would buy fast food. They went into great detail about transaction speed improvements, 100% up-sells, and multilingual capabilities, all the while presenting a handsome ROI intended to woo the board and moneylenders.
When it was time for the analyst to speak, he praised each of the vendors and their various technology offerings. He then paused, and very simply stated that if 60-75% of a fast food operator’s business is through the drive-thru, then he’s more prone to opt for a solution that cuts 3 seconds off the drive-thru time than a kiosk that costs several thousand dollars and sits seldom-used in the lobby.  The kiosk likely would fall below the IT budget cutoff line for most operators.
Just as I didn’t endear myself to the engineers, designers, lawyers and CPA’s in that briefing many years ago, so too the analyst didn’t endear himself to the vendors at that trade show. However, in each case, a truth was presented, and regardless of how unpopular that truth may have been to some, no amount of technological wizardry could overcome it.
In this age of technology, competing priorities, and left-field threats, vendors are as prone as anyone to being so busy doing the work that they forget to check up on some of the essentials. One way to help overcome this would be to practice a little of what we once called MBWA, or management by wandering around. Step away from the email, turn off the cell phone, and indeed leave the office and go out to watch how consumers are using (or not using) the self service technology that you and your competitors have delivered to the industry.
For that matter, go and actually use the technology as it is currently deployed. Take a notepad and a pen with you, and record your observations. Then, talk to your customers and ask them open-ended questions about what they’re finding, like:
  • Has your customer had to implement any changes in operating procedures since the installation of your “plug-and-play” kiosk?
  • How is that anodized aluminum cabinet holding up after being hit by a skateboard or two while deployed on a sidewalk in that seaside resort? (It looked so pretty when the kiosk was first delivered)
  • What does the screen bezel look like after several consumers have tried (and failed) to balance their cup of moca frappuccino while operating the kiosk (after you decided not to incorporate a cup-holder in the design)?
  • How well do consumers do as they navigate between your self-checkout system’s main touch-screen display and the payment device?
Granted, some humor may be found in these scenarios, but for the owner of your technology that is experiencing these in real life, they’re not laughing. Take seriously the answers to your questions, especially the ones you really don’t like, for they illustrate your greatest opportunity for solution enhancement.
They may not be solved with technology, but the result may be a keener understanding of the particular application (or non-application) of technology for your customers. Remember, the technology may be great, but don’t forget the whole business case.
Lee Holman is Vice President of Product Development. In addition to an MBA from Pepperdine University and a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland, Lee brings over 26 years of sales, product development, and engineering and management experience in the field of high technology, beginning with his work on nuclear subs for the US Navy as an undergraduate.
Posted by: Lee Holman AT 02:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 14 August 2006
Today’s leading companies are looking to technology to help engage customers and enhance the customer experience. The problem is too many companies start with the technology first.
If you’re thinking you can deploy kiosks, digital signage, or any other customer experience technology by choosing a kiosk enclosure, a plasma screen, or a web site to leverage, stop! Technologies are important - extremely important - but they are only a part of the solution.
To create powerful customer experiences, you need to start by understanding your customers - the ones actually interacting with your business in your aisles, your lobbies, your physical environment. If you understand their drives and expectations, you’ll be able to create the customer experiences that keep them coming back again and again.
Customers are great at asking the question “What’s in it for me?” The more you can build your experiences to answer this question, the more success you will create. To do this, you have to understand what drives them, how to talk to them, and what’s important to them while they’re in your presence.
This means not only identifying the basic demographics, psychographics, and other various marketing insights, but asking: why would your customers benefit from using the desired technology?
Believe it or not, too many companies look to deploy digital signage and kiosks without doing an analysis of the business objectives and benefits from deploying these technologies.
Putting up plasma screens to simply run 30-second TV spots is unlikely to deliver additional value to the customer interaction. While showcasing an existing website on a kiosk generally causes more problems than solves in an in-store environment.
Worse than not carefully defining the business objectives is focusing solely on the business goals to the detriment of the customer objectives and ultimately the project. Look around the market and you’ll see evidence of too many projects that cut too many corners, had too small of a budget, or failed to accurately measure the intended results. In the end these projects either cost the company more money to rework or died a slow death while antagonizing customers and hurting the business.
To avoid these pitfalls, it’s important to understand how these technologies can fit into your existing business infrastructure and deliver compelling results to the business and the customer. Asking the right questions up front can help a business understand the various benefits and tradeoffs as they build out a technology solution.
The key is to match up your customers’ requirements and expectations to a solution that meets your business objectives. Once you’ve analyzed the business objectives and matched them with the customer objectives, it’s time to identify the unique environmental and location issues related to deploying public-space technologies.
How many times have you seen a kiosk buried in the back corner of a store generating no traffic, or digital signage screens placed 15-feet over the head of customers blaring audio out of tiny speakers. These environment choices can have lasting negative impressions on your brand and business.
To create an engaging customer experience the technology has to play well within the environment. From material choice of an enclosure (wood, metal, plastic) to traffic flow to lighting, ambient noise, and customer access, each location should be analyzed to ensure that the device matches customers’ expectations, the brand experience, and the operational and logistical issues of the store itself.
Once you’ve analyzed the customer, business, and environment issues, then you need to select the technologies that can best address these issues and provide an adaptable and scalable solution.
Customer experience technologies consist of a variety of technologies from hardware to software to networking and systems integration. Each chosen technology, from the PC that drives the experience to the screen that displays it, can impact the customer experience.
Brian Ardinger is Nanonation’s vice president of business development.
Posted by: Brian Ardinger AT 02:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Sunday, 25 June 2006
Juan Perez is president chief technology officer of kiosk software developer ADUSA, Inc.
The trend of changing from traditional ordering to self-service creates healthy debate, but also misconceptions. In the case of self-ordering, critics make believe that kiosks somehow detract from the customer experience.
A Chicago Sun-Times columnist writing about a deli self-ordering kiosk at his local supermarket called it “another step towards our dehumanized future.” When asked about using self-ordering to help alleviate the long lunch lines in his restaurants, the CEO of a growing sandwich chain said he wanted the long lines, because having customers waiting in long lines was a part of the restaurant’s culture. He said they can usually listen to a local musician strumming a guitar while they wait.
Both perspectives ignored the fact that a growing number of their customers are more concerned with convenience than with ambiance or old-fashioned retail charm.
Convenience is what self-service is all about. And, yes, you can have self-ordering in your supermarket or restaurant and still maintain a traditional ordering process for those customers who prefer it. Self-ordering and traditional ordering can co-exist. They complement each other well.
Implementing self-ordering at the supermarket deli or in the restaurant will free up resources to dedicate more time to customers using the traditional ordering method. Order accuracy, which naturally improves for self-ordering customers, now also has a chance to improve for traditional-ordering customers. Order size, which has been proven to increase for self-ordering customers, now also has a chance to increase for traditional-ordering customers. Lines are shorter and wait times are reduced. Both kinds of customers are served better. Order accuracy is improved. Retailers really can’t afford not to try out self-ordering in their stores.
In his column, the Sun Times columnist reminisced about when he was a boy and the butcher would give him a slice of bologna while preparing his mother’s deli order. He laments that self-ordering makes that sort of old-fashioned retail experience extinct. But he also says the self-ordering process is “efficient as heck,” and that it would be a lifesaver on a busy Saturday afternoon. He would also do well to ask a busy customer which they would value more: a few seconds of social interaction with the stranger behind the deli counter, or shaving off 10–15 minutes from their shopping trip.
Consumerism moves forward. There is no going back to the days of free balogna. Self-service gives the customer control and a growing number of customers, having tried it, will have it no other way.
Self-ordering will most likely become available in every supermarket deli and restaurant on the planet because customers will demand it. Many retailers recognize this trend and are working to integrate self-ordering into their stores and restaurants. As for the others: it’s never too late to give the customers what they want.
Posted by: Juan Perez AT 02:04 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 10 April 2006

bob.jpgThe writer is an executive vice president and general manager with NetWorld Alliance, which publishes this site as well as Self-Service World and KioskMarketplace.
Retail’s current form is weakening and will not survive.
There is a silver lining, but for now and for most retailers, there’s a black cloud. The customer’s retail experience has devolved to a point that mere adequacy is the best that can be expected, and that minimum standard is inconsistently evident. Many stores are uninspired, often with poor environment, poor display, inadequate selection, inadequate information, out-of-stock merchandise, poorly-executed merchandising, less-than-knowledgeable sales staff and clogged checkout lanes. Poor retail service exists at mom-and-pops, the big boxes, the bigger boxes, QSR (quick serve restaurants) -- almost everywhere that retail bricks are joined by mortar.
Increasingly, traditional retailers miss sales opportunities while customers exert direct transactional control, getting exactly what they want by buying online. They simply log into the fully-personalized Internet experience and shop on their own schedules, while receiving directly targeted branding messages everywhere they click.
Success trickles out of the traditional retail model because most stores are not evolving as rapidly as the marketplace.
Admittedly, good retail is hard to do.
It’s hard to sustain commercial difference in the minds of demanding, fickle customers. Tough and creative competition surrounds most retailers, and sub-five-percent margins barely let retailers breathe.
With recent thoughts based on my 23-year experience working in retail and with more than 2,000 retailers, and stemming from lessons I have learned while co-owning and managing part of a media organization devoted to the self-service and kiosk industry, I ask retail executives to consider a vision that will provide far greater success.
The vision will be realized when a well-integrated strategy of self-service and assisted self-service technology and solutions are deployed. This is not the bias of an industry insider: it is profitable, time-tested reality that forward-thinking organizations use to generate ROI today.
The self-service investment consistently proves its value: pay-at-the pump at c-stores, ATMs, photo kiosks, airline ticketing devices, grocery and retail self-checkout and today’s rapid growth of digital signage. And yet, the retail industry is slow to adopt.
What they have adopted is a frustrated attitude toward service. It’s perceived as too hard to find, train and keep qualified sales associates. Many leading retailers have a diminished vision of service, and the customer can tell. Increasingly in the future, more enlightened retailers will steal those customers.
If retailers wonder how self-service can extend their brands, consider how museums attract crowds by making seemingly boring textbook theories into lively, immersive experiences. Car batteries and broccoli aren’t anymore appealing than scientific axioms. But an interactive, hands-on experience brings life to any of them. The most seemingly mundane products draw more customers when presented on branded multimedia kiosks, surrounded by dynamic, animated digital signage, offering the customer as much information as desired when buying. While this technological explosion envelops all age groups, it especially grabs the young demographics precious to retail.
Let’s move from big box to smart box, building smaller stores offering more products with better service: hire fewer people, use customer-facing devices. We’ll combine the kiosks and digital signage for a more dynamic, focused customer experience.
Let’s use the kiosks to train the employees with procedures, involving them in corporate culture and equipping them with product knowledge in the downtime.
Let’s convert our stores to surpass the current brand. If our current brand is insufficient to resonate with today’s customer to a high degree, we should change it, and extend it more effectively throughout the marketplace.
Let’s create a true retail experience where the customer is honored based on what they want, rather than delivering the options we hope they want based on what seems reasonable to deliver.
Let’s provide a creative environment within our stores, appropriate to products and services, with an experience that is better and more-evolved than the slower competition. This unique first-person experience will be impossible to duplicate on the Internet.
Let’s use digital signage to grab customers’ senses at the front of the store, perfectly relaying the brand experience – intrigue, excitement, mystery – through the best sales media of all: customers’ emotions.
Let’s take a clean sheet of paper and design the whole store to convey the experience through kiosks and digital signage. Let’s create this smarter buyer experience across more store locations and off-site kiosks, with great economic leverage. Make the entire digital signage and kiosk experience into a single, powerful message, managed strategically by enlightened executives and operated tactically by one person at one computer using thoughtful, well-designed software.
Let’s provide the ultimate in product information, choice, comparison, and demonstration in a way outmatching anything found at current stores, or ever on the web.
Let’s create this useful content in close proximity to the products to which the information relates.
Let’s employ highly effective merchandising techniques on display devices to cross-sell, up-sell, and accentuate merchandise. Retailers will quickly enjoy what Coke has learned at quick service restaurants: when beverages are encouraged or up-sold by effective and consistent self-service devices, beverage sales increase at least 15 percent.
Let’s create targeted product information providing an effective sales relationship. Let’s make the content truly useful for purchasing, and not inappropriately focused in its own flash factor.
Take for example an appliance store. We need only one washer and dryer pair to offer a brand’s look and feel, associated with the appropriate product information provided by self-service devices or from a knowledgeable, well-trained salesperson using assisted-selling devices. Having multiple products from many brands displayed is unnecessary for almost any type product, and costly in many ways.
Let’s sell music, movies, games and software burned locally on the fly, or offer listening and viewing stations with the merchandise warehoused in floor-to-ceiling shelving in the back room, eliminating costlier display space.
Let’s hire fewer people in these smart boxes, and recruit with instant profiling capabilities provided through in-store HR kiosks, querying for career-oriented personnel, and let’s use the money we save by selling smart to pay better. Let’s create pride by using self-service to hire the best people, offer them the best training and empowering them with the best tools.
Let’s imagine a better way. Let’s accept a new, better vision. Let’s feel  pride through the orchestration of this vision.  Let’s better understand the current customer plight and catch up to the way they want to do business.
The shoppers won’t wait much longer, and while you’re reading this, so is your competition.
Bob Fincher can be e-mailed at .

Posted by: Bob Fincher AT 01:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Add to favorites

Our members are among the most prominent and respected suppliers of digital signage, kiosk, self-service and mobile technology solutions.

Request project help from DSA members

 The Perspective 
Latest Posts

Tweets by @iDigScreenmedia

Digital Screenmedia Association | 13100 Eastpoint Park Blvd. Louisville, KY 40223 | Phone: 502-489-3915 | Fax: 502-241-2795



Website managed by Networld Media Group