The Perspective 
Saturday, 28 September 2013

By Richard Ventura
Director of Sales – Vertical Solutions for NEC Display Solutions


While digital screens have been deployed in a variety of retail applications such as menu boards in restaurants, digital end caps in electronics stores, directory boards in malls and digital mannequins in clothing stores, the true power of digital has yet to be fully tapped.  You may ask, what is that true power?  It is the power of full engagement via interactive digital signage.

Traditionally, retailers have used digital signage as a way to run advertising of products and goods with very little integration into store systems.  Those that have integrated focus mainly on inventory databases and their point of sales (POS) systems to capture customer data that can be mined to better align with customer preferences.  Further, many retailers utilize traditional kiosk systems to allow for online ordering, guest registry access and even for hiring future employees. 

What many are missing, though, is how to utilize their systems and capture customer interactions in order to create a full engagement between the brand and the consumer. When looking at interaction and engagement, there are three types:  passive, active, and mobile.

In the restaurant space, many brands have deployed customer-facing kiosks where people can place their orders and learn about specials without any human interaction.  This is an active way for the brand to interact with the consumer, and increase sales and efficiencies.  Following more of a passive way to interact with the consumers, others have deployed “order-ready boards,” where patrons are informed when their meals are complete.  While guests wait for their food, they have become a captive audience, a fact not lost on these businesses, which are cross-marketing and up selling various services and goods to them.

Interactive wayfinding kiosks in malls, hotels, airports and other retail businesses let consumers print maps and coupons, make dinner reservations, and purchase goods and services.  This creates an engaging experience, even if for only a few seconds, that allows the consumer to fully experience the brand(s).

Forward-thinking businesses also are letting consumers use their smart phones and tablets to interact with digital screens, kiosks, store end caps and video walls.  Many top restaurant brands have created iPhone and iPad apps for ordering food selections and counting calories – and through Near Field Communication (NFC), enabling interaction with digital screens themselves for scanning QR codes, downloading coupons and making purchases.  Also, many retailers are utilizing these applications to create a virtual store-within-a-store concept.  A consumer can pull up reviews, check inventories, place orders, and in some cases, test-drive a product all via their smart phones and tablets.

Research firm DisplaySearch says the market for public displays across industries is showing strong growth, set to push near 12 million units sold in 2018, an increase from just under 3 million in 2011.  DisplaySearch’s Jennifer Colegrove asserts, “Touchscreen penetration is rapidly increasing. Over the next several years, touchscreens will undergo strong growth in large-size applications.”

Through these devices and technologies, retailers gain opportunities to engage customers and build relationships.  But as the phenomenon of interactivity grows, the question about customer service looms large.  Is customer interaction with machines better for brands than dealing with company employees?

From my perspective, the answer has more to do with customers and supplying them more options than to say that human interaction is always better.  Interactive digital screens can empower customers to bond with a brand in ways that they choose and in ways that enhance their retail experiences.

As we’ve seen more and more, some people would rather shop online than walk into a brick-and-mortar store.  When these types of people do step into stores, they prefer to shop on their own, peruse in-store kiosks for more information, make their purchases and leave as soon as possible.  Salespeople won’t impact what they want to buy or have the opportunity to upsell additional items.

But there are others who want that personal attention.  The upshot is that the retailer can match the demands of a variety of consumers where and how they want to interact with the brand.  These options give retailers a better chance to capture more of an audience.  Interactive technologies introduce a new dynamic to selling.

Some stores are availing themselves of this new dynamic.

Best Buy, for example, has introduced interactive kiosks in airports to sell iPods, headphones, game cubes and other technologies.  It’s the “big box” retailer’s way of meeting the needs of the marketplace by giving people options on how and where to buy.  At the same time, it continues to offer its bricks-and- mortar department stores and the Best Buy Mobile stores.

Apple has done a phenomenal job of making sure that before a buyer can close out a sale online, in a store, or through its IOS application, that options for cables and extended warranties appear and are part of the sales equation.  That breeds additional sales.
While these are some of the best practices, the retail industry still has to make progress, according to a recent study.  SapientNitro’s Insight 2013 Report indicates that most retailers are failing when it comes to deploying digital signage and interactive technologies.  Just 22% were rated as truly interactive with a value-add beyond just merchandizing or a display.

Here’s how to make the interactive experience relevant:

  • Deliver the right content and messaging  
  • Design a technologically sound kiosk that people will be drawn to
  • Deliver a meaningful experience. 

If the interaction with a kiosk or digital screen is “bumpy,” or if consumers have to scroll through too many products to place an order, they will walk away.  There needs to be a way to guide them through the process with a series of questions and interactions, and their time must be respected

An interactive system built on good design, tied to other sales channels and offering a solid customer experience will increase sales.

Here are the questions retailers need to ask themselves before deploying interactive digital signage:

  •     What are our goals and strategies?
  •     How will we execute the plan?
  •     How will we measure results?
  •     Who will support our interactive system?
  •     How will we expand the deployment?
  •     What types of technologies will be used?
  •     Who will manage the content?
  •     How do we keep the content fresh and impactful?

The question is not whether to deploy interactive technologies, but when, and to have the plan in place to do so.

Watching young children interact with technology is a particularly noteworthy barometer.  Whenever they encounter a computer screen, their expectations are that it is interactive.  A touch mentality is so ingrained in this generation that it should give retailers pause.  These little patrons are the formation of a digital interactive society.

This article was originally published in Retail Merchandiser magazine.



Posted by: Admin AT 08:04 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 19 May 2008
Sometimes, when I speak at conferences, I joke about some of the long-standing traditions we have at the Postal Service: "More than 230 years of tradition unmarred by progress.” 
Beyond that self-deprecating attempt at humor, I’m proud to say that there has been significant progress over the years – from simple innovations like self-adhesive stamps and flat-rate priority mail boxes to more complex ones like automated mail sorting and printing postage online. 
The Postal Service also has made progress with the testing and deployment of large, complex communication networks. In 1996, we introduced Postal Vision, an employee communications network that now is integrated with our USPS-TV network. As an “early adopter” of digital signage, we began testing the impact of digital vs. static menu boards in retail lobbies in 1999. And in 2003, we laid the groundwork for a test of digital signage that began in selected post offices in 2004 – The Post Office Channel. This third effort took advantage of the advances that had taken place in a growing medium including content delivery methods and the declining costs of technology.
One of our challenges is to improve the customer experience in more than 32,000 retail locations. Digital signage can have a positive impact on the retail environment in several ways. One opportunity is to increase the range of information available to customers while they are waiting to be served. The Post Office Channel features product and service messages to educate and inform retail customers. For example, one message compares the product features of overnight express mail and two-to-three-day priority mail. Another compares delivery confirmation to signature confirmation and shows which form to use depending on which service the customer chooses.
A second opportunity is to redirect customers and actually change customer behavior. Part of the long-standing tradition of how customers behave in our retail space is that many are totally focused on getting in the full-service queue and getting served as quickly as possible. That sounds reasonable. 
But what if there are 10 people in line and all you need are some stamps? Can digital signage help change customer behavior and redirect them to the Automated Postal Center (APC), a fully automated kiosk that not only sells stamps but also allows customers to mail packages?
We focused on changing this customer behavior specifically by including a digital screen at the main entrance to each of the test sites. Nicknamed the “Stop and Turn” device, it is a 30-inch screen hung portrait fashion in a custom mount. The content on this screen is all very short (3-5 seconds), bright colors, and designed to catch the eye of customers as they walk into the post office. It’s also very direct in its messages. “Jump the line. Ship packages at the APC.” Or, “Get out of line. Buy stamps at vending.”
In addition to 2,500 APCs, the Postal Service offers 70,000 alternate access locations where customers can buy stamps or mail packages without ever setting foot in a Post Office. This includes supermarkets, drug stores, convenience stores, ATMs and a robust online commerce site at
We established four key metrics for our digital signage test: revenue lift in products promoted on the screens, actual and perceived wait time in line, customer satisfaction and shift to alternate access. For the fourth metric, we defined success in three ways:
  • Re-direct traffic away from full-service
  • Increase number of customers using self-service options (APCs and vending machines)
  • Increase awareness and usage of alternate access channels for purchasing stamps and other simple transactions

The shift to alternate access channels was the most successful result in the test. The Post Office Channel had a positive impact on redirecting customers to in-store self-service options. Customers who saw the Stop and Turn screen were more likely to use vending (8.7% vs. 6.5%) and the APC (7.4% vs. 3.4%). 

We also tracked revenue changes in the test sites as compared to alternate access locations within a five-mile radius. We measured customer awareness of the availability of alternate access locations before we installed the digital signage and again post-installation and found that awareness rose by 22 percent. Revenue from stamp sales declined at the test sites and increased at alternate access locations within the five-mile trade area, indicating that customers were getting the message that they did not have to come to the Post Office to complete a simple transaction such as buying stamps.
Similar findings were reported by the Platt Retail Institute in a February 2008 working paper entitled, “Test Results from a Bank Branch Digital Communications Network.” In this study, ATM use at test branches increased following introduction of digital signage. Customer visits to tellers decreased by 8.3 percent in the test sites as compared to a control group of bank branches without digital signage. Customers who viewed the digital signage messages were more aware of which forms needed to be completed and what type of identification was required, thus decreasing wait time in line and improving teller productivity.
Our research results are consistent with this bank-based study. Digital signage can have an impact on changing ingrained customer behavior. And the Postal Service will continue to innovate and make progress in the years to come.
Margot A. Myers is the manager of retail in-store programs for the U.S. Postal Service.
Posted by: Margot A. Myers AT 11:27 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 04 September 2007

Successful kiosk deployment growth strategies include remote management



04 Sep 2007

In a previous job I sat next to a sales rep (thank you, open concept office planners) who always talked about the “big deal” he was about to close. He never closed any of those big deals, and in hindsight, that was probably a good thing. If he had, and the company had quickly doubled or tripled in size, it likely would have gone bankrupt within nine months.
Management studies suggest businesses that experience rapid growth tend to spend little or no time developing and applying a reasonable growth strategy. Without a strategy in place, businesses face a nightmare of organizational problems, including the real possibility of bankruptcy within months of the initial growth. When it comes to self-service deployments, there are four key factors to include when planning for a healthy future.
Deployers often rely on store staff for routine maintenance such as refilling paper. This approach to service doesn’t work, partly because your priority (maintaining the kiosk) is not their priority. To avoid this scenario, use your remote management software to check kiosks’ status and to call stores whose kiosks are not up and running at the beginning of the day. When it’s time to distribute security patches, content updates and price changes, there’ll be no need to turn to store staff. The benefit is less about saving store employee’s time; it’s about ensuring you have the means to efficiently control the operation of your kiosks.
Everyone is aware of the need for security measures on their kiosk, from Payment Card Industry security compliance to locking down the keyboard to prevent application hijacking. However, the most overlooked threat often comes from within. Disgruntled employees account for a growing number of security breaches. As your kiosk deployment grows, so will the number of people who have access. Use your remote management software to limit access and functionality for different users — each user receives a unique password and each action performed is recorded in an audit log. This may seem like Orwellian overkill, but audit logs are critical in tracing security breaches and in troubleshooting user-error problems. You’ll have no trouble finding the person responsible for posting the Christmas promotion in July!
As the size of your deployment grows, the challenge of managing day-to-day operations will increase. More customers mean more content updates, more paper jams, more of everything you need to do to keep customers happy. Myriad software options allow you to perform remote actions via a one-to-one connection from a computer, and that’s great if you don’t intend to manage more than a dozen kiosks. If it takes you 15 minutes to login to a kiosk, perform an action (diagnosis, run a report, check the paper, etc.) and call your client to let them know the results, that would mean you could handle 30 calls in the average workday. As your deployment grows, you’ll have to choose between adding staff to manage the increased workload, or using remote management software that permits one-to-many connectivity and task automation.
"All we want are the facts, ma'am" was Sgt. Friday’s demand on the 1950s (and later ‘60s-‘70s) television show, Dragnet, and that’s what board members will be asking about your self-service deployment at the next annual meeting. The facts in this case are the core metrics of profit, revenue, usage and availability. You will need a reliable source for extracting this information from your self-service deployment.
Remote management software can collect and present customer usage data by kiosk, by region, by store, or whatever way you want to see it. The added value of tracking customer activity is that it tells you what’s on their minds, giving you the jump on the next big trend.
Analysts agree self-service technology is on the verge of mass adoption. That means more kiosks will be used by a greater number of industries to reach their customer base. To manage that growth, plan for tomorrow’s success today by developing a plan to help you avoid the pitfalls associated with service, security, scale and data.
The writer is Director of Application Solutions for Esprida Corp. where he is responsible for the integration and deployment of remote management solutions.
Posted by: Asad Jobanputra AT 12:03 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 24 April 2007
When deployers plan for a new kiosk deployment, it is easy to get caught up in aesthetics such as the size of the screen, design and color, overlooking some essential money-saving aspects. For vendors and end-users alike, here are several behind-the-scenes details that are often overlooked, but can make or break your next kiosk rollout.
Does your kiosk have a power filter?
Anyone who builds or owns a kiosk knows its CPU isn’t unlike the ones found in our home or office PCs. Having a kiosk freeze up can be much more costly, however.
A power filter is like a premium insurance package for your kiosks. Power filters protect the kiosk from power surges and spikes that can come through the electrical outlet, but also through phone and internet jacks. They also clean up “dirty power” and suppress electric noise.
“Electric noise is caused by things near the customer’s facility that they have no control over,” said Mike Honkomp, director of new market development for Electronic Systems Protection. "Maybe it’s in the convenience store next to the ATM machine, or next to a refrigerator where a compressor kicks on.”
A commercial-grade power filter provides much more protection than a common surge protector. Power filters eliminate more electric noise and have a much higher threshold in case of lightning strikes and large power spikes.
“A $180 investment for a power filter seems like a worthwhile investment to protect a $10,000 kiosk,” Honkomp said.
The best service for self-service
When you buy an appliance, a service plan is often included. If and when the appliance breaks down, a service person comes to your house and fixes it (between the hours of eight and four…thank you for your patience).
So what about your kiosk? Having a plan for service and maintenance can lower your kiosk’s downtime from days to hours. More and more companies are supporting their own service teams of certified technicians working for the company, but placed throughout the country for quick service.
MTI is a retail fixture company that has used RFID and targeted marketing as part of its self-service initiative. They have 100 contracted service employees around the country for system repairs, bridging the labor gap between expensive IT contractors and what Vice President Jason Goldberg calls “dusters and fluffers” – store merchandisers who don’t do repairs. MTI’s maintenance crew also performs monthly check-ups on MTI stations in their region.
For those deployers who do not have their own in-house maintenance service, there are companies such as Rhombus Services. Rhombus maintains a nation-wide network of qualified subcontractors specialized in kiosk repair and service.
Rhombus’s president, Jeff Metzger, says it is also very important to synchronize your service plan with the recommended service times for kiosk components such as printers and bill acceptors.
Whether contracted or in-house, you want to make sure your kiosk vendor can provide you with quick maintenance service, whether in-house or sub-contracted. You can’t afford to have a kiosk down for days particularly if you are located in a remote area, while you wait for a technician to come cross-country for a service call. Not to mention, you will most likely be paying the cost of his plane ticket.
Keep an eye on it with remote monitoring
Whether your kiosk is a revenue generator or a customer information tool, downtime is going to end up costing your business. A remote monitoring package is a very cheap and worthwhile feature often overlooked, especially during small kiosk rollouts or pilots.
Through programs such as Provisio’s SiteKiosk, kiosk manufacturers and deployers can monitor amounts of money accepted, printer paper levels and even gather user demographic information. Most importantly, you can be notified if your kiosk goes down through email, SMS or cell phone calls.
Like the service plan, remote monitoring services can be done independently or through a kiosk vendor.
“It’s insanity that more people don’t spend a few bucks for the service,” said Peter Snyder, managing director, International Kiosk Group, Kiosk Information Systems.
Posted by: Bill Yackey AT 10:41 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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