|| The Perspective
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
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
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.
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?
Wednesday, 24 March 2006
By Reflect Systems
The world of retailing just keeps getting more exciting as the landscape continues to radically shift and morph with new business models and approaches in the age of the Connected Customer. Traditional retailers have been honing their digital chops with omnichannel strategies. But we’re also seeing other brands that are not traditional retailers now expanding with efforts to get closer to the consumer with a “physical” retail presence.
A new form of retailers are emerging and exploring the benefits of physical stores and showrooms. While many brands have leveraged pop-ups and store-in-store implementations, dedicated stand-alone locations are increasingly part of the strategy for many brands. Examples include Nike, Levis, Polo Ralph-Lauren and many others.
Some brands have had long-standing programs using their own branded store locations. Some of these brands rely on the bulk of their sales through wholesale channels and now, increasingly, through online purchases. But they have also leveraged their own physical stores for branding and customer insights.
Newcomers continue to move into the physical store landscape. Samsung, seeking to increase brand awareness and better customer education, made a big effort with a store-in-store partnership with Best Buy and will soon be seeking to test their own dedicated stores to further solidify their brand presence and compete with the likes of Apple.
Now, even more interestingly, e-tailers are getting aggressive with new forays into dedicated shops and “showrooms". While some of these efforts are still experimental, toe-in-the-water programs, many examples are proving to be quite successful to brands seeking to move beyond the confines of the digital world to establish valuable face-to-face connections with customers. Some of these brands may keep their physical footprints relatively small to grow awareness in strategic markets and leverage customer insights to further strengthen their online business. Others may prove to be more expansive and farther reaching.
There are many cases of brands moving into the physical store game, including Bonobos, Warby Parker, Birchbox, J. Hilburn, Trunk Club, Alton, Justfab, SwimSpot, Nasty Gal, BaubleBar, and others.
Many of the newcomer brands like to the physical retailing world are starting the move to the physical world by experimenting with pop-ups and store-in-store formats before taking the plunge into dedicated stores.
Birchbox, Athleta, and Amazon
Birchbox, a New York-based apparel e-tailer, has been one of the oft-cited examples of this transitional, phased approach to entering physical stores. They partnered to make selections of merchandise available in Nordstrom and Belk stores. Birchbox expanded their own presence with dedicated “Guideshops” in multiple major markets.
Athleta, previously a web retailer for women’s sportswear, was acquired by Gap, Inc. and is making the move into dedicated brand stores. While other e-tailers will face learning curves on the science of merchandising in the real world, Athleta will likely benefit from the operations and traditional retailing expertise of Gap.
And then there’s the proverbial elephant in the room… Amazon. It’s unclear what their overarching long-term strategy is for physical retail presence, but they are likely to make waves.
Insights and Lessons Learned from Brands Moving to Dedicated Physical Stores
- Boosting brand awareness and creating a connection with new customers is a big driver for many businesses. However, there are lessons being learned related to timing and brand awareness. While going physical may be a good move for some online-only businesses, it helps to have recognized brand and buzz before opening physical stores.
- Personalized services like beauty consultations and other one-on-one appointments are playing a big part in this new world of connected retailing. Stylists in Trunk Club locations consult with customers and fill a “digital trunk” with selected products to be shipped to the customer. This approach is proving to be effective at helping men who may not like the hassle of shopping, but need help and consultation to quickly find the right fit, brands and accessories that are right for them.
- E-tailers and consumer product brands are recognizing the customers’ desire to touch and feel products in the real world. Many products are challenging to effectively sell online. Apparel, glasses, and makeup and beauty products in particular can benefit from physical shopping. This can be a challenge for e-tailers as they move from online to physical. They must learn or acquire the knowledge to merchandise products using best practices ingrained in traditional retail models.
- The art/science of product curation has a big impact in showrooms for engaging the customer and educating them on offerings. Brands are experimenting with the breadth and depth of the products to show in the store, and they are finding the best ways to merchandise in person. Birchbox, for example, has showcased products by category, rather than by brand.
- In-store events like celebrity appearances, classes, and other events like make-up and beauty parties provide brands with more opportunities to leverage the in-person benefits of a physical location. Using the storefront or showroom to leverage the “art of the happening” may prove to further enhance the brand to consumer connection.
- Digital is still playing a part in the physical store. Even as traditional retailers are embracing in-store digital technologies, e-tailers and brand stores have an even stronger reliance on having a seamless connection with the web. Birchbox uses video content and product reviews with their interactive in-store displays. Alton Lane, another men’s apparel retailer, uses a 3D body scanner to take measurements, providing an in-person edge over the challenge of finding the right fit online.
- Some of these new in-store purchases have shown higher average transaction sizes versus online. They are also seeing customers acquire a higher comfort level with brands in-store, then transitioning with ease to making follow-up purchases online.
- One of the big findings of e-tailers has been that there are still many people who just like the act of browsing products in person. While traditional retailers are getting better at their web presence, e-tailers are learning how to best bring their website into the physical world.
- Shopping, for many, is still an activity and event providing an outlet for moving around and exploring. As Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal has acknowledged, shopping is a form of entertainment.
While the online and physical worlds collide and alter the retail landscape, the recognition of the value of physical presence is gaining more visibility. Online is big, but brands are also getting physical.
Wednesday, 28 January 2015
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.
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’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.
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.
Tuesday, 06 January 2015
Ron Bowers (bio)
SVP, Business Development
Frank Mayer & Associates
Millennials controlling 70% of the spending power in the U.S. creates vast uncertainty amongst retailers; but with the strongest economy in years, optimism prevails as we begin 2015.
For many retailers, the Millennial consumer is an enigma: they are more suspicious of who to trust and yet, more likely to be influenced by apps and social media than any other generation. Only 19% of Millennials (versus 40% of Baby Boomers) say that, “generally speaking, most people can be trusted” (PewResearch). However, in order to make buying decisions, consumers look to a retailer’s online presence and social influence before considering a purchase.
This generation’s spending habits are moved by its self-paradox. Millennials are self-focused and at the center of their own global communications. It is vital for them to have a positive self-image while finding a sense of belonging when purchasing consumer goods. They desire self-preservation and a personal connection to a product or service.
So, what does this mean for retailers?
The heightened competition amongst store fronts and e-commerce will increase. Currently, roughly ¾ of consumers claim to showroom (Retail Future Trends 2015) or rather compare brands in order to receive the lowest price, best quality and/or widest selection of merchandise when shopping—many times without ever stepping foot in a store. This creates less in-store traffic and increased wavering among dominant brands. So, retailers must draw their target markets in through a strong online presence while providing feelings of exclusivity and individuality for a reasonable price.
To draw consumers into their store fronts, many retailers have begun incorporating various electronic capabilities; this includes the use of tablets, interactive kiosks and beacon technology. Tablets and interactive kiosks extend inventory past what can be offered in stores. The use of tablets has expanded into the retail environment to replace paper signage with digital advertising while providing sales associates quick and easy access to inventory, online ordering, product information and faster checkouts. Interactive Kiosks act in a similar way – allowing for added promotions through electronic ads specified to a department and the time of day. They also enable retailers to connect with consumers by blending in-store merchandising and virtual product displays. Beacon technology, on the other hand, provides the retailer with direct communication to the consumer and has the potential to completely change the in-store shopping experience by creating personalized and targeted marketing in real time. A beacon uses a Bluetooth signal to send special offers to nearby smartphones equipped with the store’s app. App users will receive targeted messages and deals while moving throughout the store.
Let’s say you’re shopping at a retailer equipped with these devices and have previously downloaded the store’s app. As you walk through the doors, your phone buzzes with an exclusive storewide discount. You wander into the home goods department and begin looking for a new blender when your phone alerts you of a sale on KitchenAid products. You can’t pass up the sale price and find the specified blender but are not happy with the color selections available in store. Scanning the product’s barcode at a nearby kiosk, you find additional product specifications, customer reviews and available colors. The color you’d like is available only online. No need to worry. Once your shopping is complete, you bring all of your selections to the nearby associate. They ring you up on their iPad and include the desired blender and ship it directly to your home.
As many stores have already begun implementing this technology, this experience won’t be a thing of the future for long. In fact, Macy’s has added 4,000 iBeacon devices nation-wide and provides coupons via this technology to customers who have downloaded ShopKick. They have also begun testing smart dressing rooms and an image search app. The smart dressing rooms have a wall-mounted tablet that allows customers to view various sizes and colors of a product while the image search app allows customers to snap a photo of an outfit or clothing item to find similar items on sale.
With these exciting advancements in technology, 2015 will be a year to watch how the in-store experience changes to accommodate the self-regarding Millennial. While it is clear that tech-enhanced stores offer an enriched shopper experience with benefits like improved productivity, inventory counts and use of store square footage, we have yet to determine exactly how to incorporate this technology so that it is most useful to each individual without overwhelming them.
Monday, 17 November 2014
Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc.
Once again this holiday season has only 26 days between Black Friday and Christmas, last year had 25 days. Shoppers and retailers are preparing for the biggest shopping season of the year. This less than 4 week window has retailers scrambling to grab and retain the consumer’s attention (and pocketbook). They are doing this in a variety of ways.
Macy’s was the first retailer to announce that they would again be open on Thanksgiving Day. The doors at Macy’s will open at 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than last year’s opening time. The department store chain stated this move was “in response to the significant, sustained customer interest in last year’s opening day on Thanksgiving, both at Macy’s and other retailers.” The Walnut Room, the famous restaurant on the 7th floor of Macy’s State Street store in Chicago, will be open for the first time serving Thanksgiving dinner, also at 6 PM. Maybe this is a start of a new tradition, Thanksgiving dinner followed by shopping? Target, Kohl’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney, along with other retailers have since posted they will also be open on Thanksgiving.
Some consumers state that greed has taken over this holiday; however, others have pointed out that the crowds these stores are receiving justify them being open. Jerry O'Brien, director of the Kohl's Department Stores Center for Retailing Excellence, stated that for some people shopping on Thanksgiving Day is no different than others playing football or going to a movie. Conversely, some retailers have opted to remain closed and allow their employees to celebrate the holiday with their families. Costco, Barnes and Noble, and Nordstrom’s are among those retailers remaining closed on the holiday.
Despite the gain in popularity of shopping on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday still remains the king. According to the National Retail Federation, 2013 store traffic on Black Friday was 92 million people compared to 45 million shoppers on Thanksgiving Day. The high presence of loyalty programs, and the data collected when enrolled in these programs, allow for retailers to pinpoint certain Black Friday offers to a shopper. With offers made via direct mail, social media and email marketing, these campaigns allow the consumer to be well prepared when they arrive at the store.
Toy retailer Toys ‘R Us recently announced a revamped loyalty program for the 2014 holiday season. They have good reason to focus on their 18 million loyalty cardholders, they account for 70% of their US sales. Recently announced, in-store and online layaway programs are now available. As an added incentive to shop even earlier, Toys ‘R Us has offered cardholders 10% off their entire purchase every Saturday during the month of November. This is in addition to loyalty members earning $5 in “R” Us Rewards for every $125 spent. When the “R” Us credit card is used for these purchases, the earnings double to $10. For holiday shoppers with children on their lists these rewards will add up quickly.
Macy’s and Toys ‘R Us have also upgraded their omni-channel features prior to the upcoming holidays. Both retailers now offer Apple Pay. In select markets, Macy’s has implemented Smart Fitting Rooms, fitting rooms with wall-mounted tablets which allow associates and customers to scan merchandise items and see other sizes or colors available. Also, in select markets, Macy’s is offering same day delivery. Consumers can purchase merchandise on the company’s website to be delivered to the store the same day. Toys ‘R Us is offering a similar service. Toys and games ordered online can be picked up in store in less than an hour.open sign
Whether you are working off your second piece of pumpkin pie by racing to the stores Thanksgiving evening, or waking up at the crack of dawn the following morning, rest assured that the stores are ready for you and a few thousand of your friends.
Tuesday, 21 October 2014
By David McCracken
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: http://retail-innovation.com/)
1. First payment by 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 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
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
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
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?
Wednesday, 15 October 2014
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.
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.
Monday, 21 July 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, 17 June 2014
By Bill Bishop
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 comqi.com, follow them on Twitter and Facebook, or visit their YouTube channel.
Friday, 30 May 2014
President & Founder
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.
Marketing’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
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.
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 ut.uniqlo.com. 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.
Tuesday, 20 May 2014
VP New Business Development
Frank Mayer & Associates
I know most readers are concerned about what’s happening tomorrow and next month and before the end of this year, but there’s a hopeful trend in retail that will bear fruit in the years to come. Companies that began as pure-play online retailers are discovering the power of having physical stores to build their brand.
In some cases plans begin with flagship stores, but for others they signal a more deliberate move into bricks and mortar. Take Warby Parker, a trendy eyewear retailer, for example. They realized a physical presence would be integral to their growth.
The business which began online four years ago now has eight locations either completed or in the works. Their website says, “Our retail spaces combine the snappy ease of online ordering with the fun and serendipity of real-life shopping (with a photo booth or two).”
Warby Parker’s statement is acknowledgement that businesses can develop a base with online shoppers, but growth in select categories requires the kind of awareness, product credibility and experience that a physical presence can achieve. The two channels work together in that customers who make their first purchase in the store may then be comfortable making future purchases online.
What can be achieved when you build a retail presence from the ground up? You can create imaginative spaces. You can have seamless experience between channels from the start. You can create an extraordinary brand experience. You can seize new opportunities.
In repurposing existing spaces, Warby Parker is creating unique store environments that blend the old with the new. In April 2013, Warby Parker opened its flagship store in NYC’s SOHO district. This maiden store features high display shelves, a rolling ladder, and old brass library lamps. The cool, old library vibe is juxtaposed with the most up-to-date technology.
Multi-channel without multiple barriers
Warby Parker intertwined vintage atmosphere and new technology without being bound to a multiplicity of existing systems. The installation of Wi-Fi sensors throughout the store tracks the flow of traffic, customer browsing trends, and product preferences. The customer data collected helps improve the shopping experience both in-store and online. POS on tablets allows sales associates to move freely about to serve customers where they are.
In its first foray into bricks and mortar, four-year old online cosmetics retailer Birchbox is devoting the second floor of a new Manhattan store to building community and offering things that can’t be obtained online. They will hold classes on makeup application and skin care and offer styling services. Technology will facilitate the in-store experience. Self-service touchscreens throughout the store will enable customers to input information and pull up relevant, personal product recommendations and reviews.
Space to collaborate
Long-time e-commerce stalwart 1-800 flowers, which realizes 73 percent of its business online and on the phone is adding franchise stores in more markets so it can pursue collaborative business that isn’t easy to achieve with just an online presence. Among other things, they found they were missing out on business opportunities like weddings and events.
These kinds of retail developments make sense for those young shoppers – the kind who would use Warby Parker’s photo booth. While Millennials are more likely than their parents or grandparents to shop online, 81 percent of their dollars are still spent in stores, according to NPD Group. They still value the experience of shopping and seek entertaining and fun venues. They will use all the channels and switch among them according to their needs and desires.
This pursuit of total retail offerings is a helpful trend.
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
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.
Wednesday, 02 April 2014
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.
Tuesday, 21 January 2014
By Jon Stine
Director, Internet Business Solutions Group
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Combine traditional and digital for greater results.
- Provide a personally relevant experience.
- Stand out from competitors.
- Maximize sales in-store and offer upsells.
- Attract new shoppers by having digital signage such as screens, video walls or touch projection in windows, at front of store, etc.
- Entertain your customers to extend dwell times.
- Promote new product lines.
- Know your audience and talk their language.
- Use dayparting to reflect the changing mood of the day.
- Send the love.
- Get social and interact.
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Marketing Manager at Slabb, Inc.
It seems that the word "interactive" is being used in various forums and mediums. But what makes interactivity so important, especially when it comes to kiosk design?
In the simplest terms, I think we can all agree that in this age of advanced technology, where everything is more accessible, faster, more responsive and ever changing that the "interactive element" is a must, in order to stay ahead or simply keep up with competitors. In addition to this, we live in a world of the informed consumer – they know what is available and what is possible and they demand it.
Just look at the technological advancements in our lifetime and the rate of change ... we have already seen five iterations of the iPad, six of the iPhone, there are over 100 tablet models – a number that continues to increase, laptops that are rivaling the thickness of paper and the technological evolution shows no signs of slowing down. This is our normal and the kiosk industry is no exception.
Kiosk interactivity gives a business one additional touch point (no pun intended) to their customers. This provides many unique opportunities for businesses, namely:
- A kiosk that enables interactivity will allow the input of customer data, providing both quantitative and qualitative information that can track buying patterns and assist in driving sales.
- Interactive kiosks reduce the amount of staff needed allowing a company to reduce training and staffing costs.
- The increased presence of interactive kiosks has encouraged the creation of customized software that can facilitate several web‐based applications, thereby reducing implementation costs.
- It is an ideal platform for a company to showcase their product while providing a modernized brand experience.
- It allows a business to differentiate itself by creating a unique, quick and efficient self‐service option for customers.
- An interactive kiosk is the perfect solution for brick and mortar retailers with an online presence to bridge any divide that may exist between the two channels. It is also an easy transition for customers who shop online to use the kiosk to purchase their products.
- And we haven't even mentioned the benefits to customers yet...
- An interactive kiosk can provide 24 hour access to products and services allowing customers to shop at their convenience.
- It gives customers a self‐service option which reduces the time that could normally be spent doing a traditional transaction; not to mention, it eliminates the need to stand in line.
- Customers get the opportunity to view products on an interactive platform that can simulate the physical attributes of the product, assisting with final purchase decisions.
- It is a source for easily accessible, updated company and product information.
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 www.KioskMarketplace.com
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
By: Ifti Ifhar, CEO, ComQi
Thanks to smartphones, consumers have unprecedented access to boundless shopping options conveniently placed at their fingertips. Retailers are now facing the challenge of how to bring the attention back to their brick-and-mortar stores and revamp their sales. However, through an innovative and brand-controlled mobile experience, the retailer can expect increased customer engagement, enhanced loyalty and boost in sales.
Brick-and-mortar stores are still by far the top revenue generators, accounting for 94.2% of total US retail sales in Q2 2013 – a staggering $1,052B – according to the US Department of Commerce. The retailer’s goal is to marry the offline and online sales for increased total revenues and EBITDA.
The solution lies in customer engagement which is the connection between a customer and a company or brand. Providing a positive, interactive sales experience, coupled with a quality product and on-demand convenience is essential. Being synonymous with sales and attrition, it is well known that retailers who invest in customer engagement enjoy premium ROIs. Based on a study conducted by PeopleMetrics, companies with the highest customer engagement levels were found to yield an annual ROI increase of 8% above the industry average, while companies with low engagement levels saw a ROI 23% below the industry average.
The disruptive technology for in-store customer engagement is a real-time, two-way mobile interactive communication channel between the shopper (smartphones and tablets) and the brand (through the store’s digital displays). It is a cloud-based SaaS technology platform incorporating mobile, web, digital signage, social and video.
There is software complementary to digital signage and social media marketing that provides a dynamic experience to include two-way mobile interaction, personalization and influence to the shopper. Customers are stimulated and feel valued because they are getting tangible rewards and emotional gratification, which leads to future purchases and increased loyalty towards the retailer.
Further integration with the brand’s POS, inventory and loyalty programs leads to a seamless storefront structure: ultimately, customer engagement at its best. The consumer gets custom discounts, instant product information, availability, price comparisons and reviews, access to online forums and a registry to the brand’s loyalty program for additional benefits.
The retailer successively collects the social identity of the store visitors and can converge it with the analytics derived from the online platform for creating unified retailer’s shoppers Big Data, improving future marketing efficiencies.
We live in a technology-based, interconnected world, and consumers are entering brick-and-mortar stores with smartphones firmly in hand. They are more informed than ever, and have clearly defined expectations of retailers. Luckily, they are more willing to interact with brands and products in totally new ways. With in-store access to detailed product information, personalized promotions, and an expedient way to shop, customers are experiencing the brand as envisioned by the retailer. The right solution can provides a 360 degree customer engagement vehicle, supporting the customer’s journey and the retailer’s longevity in the competitive and digital retail environment.
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.
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.
Tuesday, 09 July 2013
By David Anzia, Frank Mayer & Associates, Inc.
Two big motivators are pushing retailers to transcend walled-off commerce and implement omni-channel strategies. The first is connected consumers who have expectations of both individualized and seamless interactions with retailers. The second is the pressure certain retailers are feeling from shoppers engaged in showrooming and the unrelenting competition from online retailers like Amazon, who are the beneficiaries of that behavior.
You need only to attend a retail conference or engage a few retail executives in conversation to understand the need for speed in overcoming infrastructure hurdles to erase the barriers between consumer touchpoints. More than half of respondents to RSR’s 2013 Cross Channel Benchmark survey feel consumer expectations outpace their ability to deliver on a consistent retail experience.
On the consumer-facing side of this retail upheaval, continuity of experience – enabled by engaging interactive merchandising, a choice of self-service options and informed assisted selling – will be the driver for garnering the loyalty of digitally savvy Millennial shoppers. Those are the shoppers that will account for nearly a third of retail sales by the end of the decade.
As an in-store merchandising company whose projects often involve bridging retail channels, it is clear to us that omni-channel retailing offers benefits that transcend the challenges of implementation. Beyond the infrastructure changes and organizational realignments required is a vision for attracting and retaining high value customers and driving greater sales.
Improved Customer Perception
Customers expect integration and will become impatient waiting for it to become a reality. The blurring of channels isn’t just a retail phenomenon. It is advancing into other aspects of consumers’ lives like entertainment, where two-screen viewing is becoming a behavioral norm. Retailers are in a transitional time where speed of implementation can be differentiating and brand-building or slow response can be frustrating and damaging.
Retailers who have inventory visibility and availability in the customer’s channel of choice have a better opportunity to complete the sale. The proof of this tenant is in the success of department store shopping kiosks and category tablet kiosks that give shoppers access to a wider selection and provide multiple points of access to complete the purchase. Consumers who shop across channels are actually spending more with their favorite retailers.
Better Data Collection
Visibility across channels means a more customized experience. Retailers that can track customers across channels and understand preferences can better serve their customers. They also gain insights into crafting offers that motivate customers to get out from behind their screens and engaged in store, where the likelihood of impulse purchase is greater.
An omni-channel strategy can arm store associates with tools that increase access to information and promote efficiency. Tablets have become the front line of defense against customers armed with more information than store employees and a great offense for turning customer data into loyalty-building service.
There are benefits and best practices involved in the use of technologies – tablets, smartphones and touchscreens – that are the face of omni-channel retailing for consumers. The Convergence of the Connected Consumer and Omni-channel Retailing is a new resource we’re offering. It examines how retailers can take advantage of these tools to carry out their omni-channel strategies.
Tuesday, 21 May 2013
By Joe Holley, vice president, new business development, Frank Mayer & Associates
In-store merchandising is an integral, tangible representation of a brand and a reflection of the retail environment for which it is created. It is unassailable that the partner you choose to bring your project to fruition can impact factors like design, speed to market, project cost, user experience and so on — things that ultimately determine success. So, how do you make sure you’re applying the right criteria to the evaluation of the merchandising partner that will translate your objectives into a tangible, customer-focused, handsomely-branded, solidly-performing solution.
First, you should approach your choice with more than a one-and-done mentality. Look for continuity. Ask how far back the longest-running client relationship goes and how many clients have been around for a decade or more.
Though not an exhaustive list, there are at least three qualitative areas where you can focus your evaluation of an in-store merchandising partner. We can talk about being creative, and nimble and detail-oriented in a theoretical way, but real-life examples illustrate the true value, so I asked our account executives to provide some.
Everyone in a creative business says they’re creative. You’ve probably heard the adage, “Don’t tell me, show me.” When you’re evaluating an in-store merchandising company, does creative talent come through strongly in the completed projects they showcase? There is more to creating effective in-store merchandising than designing to stated objectives.
Ask yourself if creative capabilities shine through in their work in a way that sets them apart. At GlobalShop 2013, we had a visitor to our booth who saw an electronics display we’d done for a competitor. Without reservation, he exclaimed, “I’ve seen those everywhere. I love them, and I wondered who did them.”
Find out about the depth of creative talent and how it is deployed. Does your potential retail merchandising company have the capability to put more than one designer on a project when necessary. Be sure they’re not stretched so thinly that multiple viewpoints and fruitful collaboration can’t be employed.
Ask to see examples of display-enhancing features that the client never thought to ask for. As an example, we were asked to design and produce customer-facing lens demonstrator kiosks. When we did our research, we realized not all of these kiosks would be placed against a wall in optical shops, and we designed the back of the display to hold a mirror that added value for the retailer and the customer.
Investigate the creative process. When we were asked to design a collateral piece for a display client that included a sliding feature, we didn’t research just within the product category. The category was eye care, but our creative team decided to look beyond the obvious. They studied the construction of candy boxes to understand how slide-out trays were designed.
The greater the array of in-house capabilities, the more responsive an in-store merchandising partner can be. Look for an environment of tightly integrated resources for complete project management from creative design through store delivery. A broad scope of resources will provide you with the greatest flexibility in accommodating program changes, compressing time frames, and delivering a product that is on pace and on budget.
Is it apparent how the team responds when clients come in with revised expectations? The willingness and flexibility to modify solutions and meet challenges as they arise, while continuing to work toward a set date, should be part of the company culture.
It is particularly telling how a partner responds when designing and engineering a display that interfaces with client product and client-supplied equipment that gets incorporated into the overall piece. Neither of those aspects is within the control of the in-store merchandising partner, but the partner should be nimble enough to make the necessary modifications and keep the project on track.
Into the Details
An in-store merchandising partner should be able to assign you team members with the experience that allows them to focus on details you, as a client starting a new project, may not even recognize need to be addressed. Focusing on the details of design and understanding the appropriateness of components can impact user experience and long-term viability. A thorough in-store merchandising partner should know what makes for ease of installation, user interface and durability and be able to show you numbers that indicate a high success rate in the field.
We were recently called to redesign two different projects that were in tests initiated by other companies. They came up with interesting designs and incorporated technology but did not have the depth of experience to integrate successfully the two elements and anticipate problems on the retail floor. Units were becoming damaged in the natural course of use and store maintenance and needed to be pulled.
Being detail oriented doesn’t translate into having an incremental focus. We were approached by still another company that already had a display in the field and were asked to redesign it. Our designers and engineers didn’t come up with just a better-looking display; they noticed the original piece had far too many screws and took too long to set up. They took a holistic approach and the result was a fully collapsible display that didn’t even require the use of tools. Not only did it have the aesthetics they were looking for, it was much more efficient to install. Oh, and the shipping costs were cut in half…
A company’s focus on being creative, nimble, and detail-oriented will tell you a lot about how they approach their work and can ultimately impact the success of your project. What other qualitative criteria would you add to the list?
Tuesday, 21 May 2013
by 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.
- Provide a superb in-store experience
- Link your online, social, mobile and in-store media experiences
- 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
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
Tuesday, 07 February 2012
by Alex Richardson
I've won over 30 industry awards for my clients and companies and I've served as a judge for six industry award events. I would summarize my advice on how to improve your chances to win into a simple concept that drives my business career: Follow the three Fs - fun, fame and fortune.
Fun: As judges, we read dozens of award applications. We tend to read submissions after work, on the train or on weekends when time permits - and we are probably sleep deprived.
Judges need to be entertained in order to capture their full attention.
Ensure that your award application is created with the proper balance of data, i.e., supply the relevant answers to the contest questions as well as provide thoughtful creative content to support your data: website links, good photos, videos. For example, when we submitted the Ralph Lauren Interactive Store Window application in 2006, we included dozens of photos, videos and media clips in order to help the judges understand how the application worked.
US Open Interactive Window August 2006
Ralph Lauren Store Madison Avenue NYC
Interactive Store Window
New Bond Street London, 2007
Fame: Fame is not only about how your project generated positive press or awareness, but how did your application change the world? If your award application doesn't have the wow factor, don’t waste your time on the award application.
Being the first to innovate for a given category is key to winning.
We could have saved time and money and created a virtual shop that promoted the Ralph Lauren US Open website content (without transactions). Instead, we engineered a simple way to mount a standard POS credit card reader on the front of the touchscreen store window ... outdoors. And we did this in a matter of weeks, not months. We were the first in the world to allow customers to order store merchandise after store hours when the store was closed. By innovating, we captured the imagination of worldwide press and elevated the brand as technology leader — totally in alignment with the new generation of digital, multi-channel consumers.
Fortune: Many award applications talk about "how did your application create a positive (ROI) –return on investment? Did my application add incremental revenues to you or your client?"
It's a powerful advantage to your award application if you can demonstrate a simple ROI to the judges. But for many emerging technologies, it’s not about ROI, it’s about ROO (return on objective).
Great brands focus on key objectives. David Lauren's objective is to use technology and innovation "as a way to tell a story about the brand." If a brand tells a relevant brand story (and creates awesome products), we increase the sales of our merchandise without spending millions on traditional print, online and TV advertising.
Our Ralph Lauren Interactive Store Window was the first stepping stone on how we wanted to break down the barrier between the retail storefront and the digital website and let customers browse and shop in the store and then complete the transaction at the store window or at their home or office computer.
We were totally customer focused and put our rich digital assets in front of the customer at the point of decision-making-the store window. (Our US Open Interactive Window was almost two years before Steve Jobs launched his Apple App Store and smart phones took over the role of kiosks.)
The results: We increased sales inside the stores and website, generated massive worldwide press, and elevated the brand as the #1 digital global apparel brand in the world. We also changed the way that retailers use digital content inside of retail stores. I’m not surprised today to see digital signage, interactive windows, 3D displays, QR codes and other innovative apps promoted at many stores from New York to Shanghai.
Yes, we won six industry awards, including multiple "Best of Show" awards and Industry Innovator of the Year Award.
Alex Richardson is managing director of Selling Machine Partners and can be contacted at .
Monday, 30 November 2009
As the days of 2009 dwindle, I find myself crisscrossing the country, talking to retailers of every stripe. These conversations have revealed a few consistent themes, which are likely to drive customer-facing retail technologies in the coming year.
To my relief and that of probably everyone in the industry, there’s a sense the economy is coming back. Earlier this month I was at the Kioskcom Self Service Expo in New York, and I would describe the mood as "unexpected optimism." Retailers and technology buyers of all sorts were on the floor in surprising numbers with specific projects they needed to execute. One exhibitor even exclaimed, "We’re on the way up!" while making a swooping airplane motion towards the sky. Now that’s what I call a return to confidence. It is a safe bet that retailers who have been waiting on the sidelines will resume investments in their store experiences in the coming year.
The dominant theme I have heard from retailers is the need to inspire shoppers. Retailers are seeking technologies that do for any product category what mannequins do for apparel—show the customer how to bring many items together into a compelling, personalized solution. An expectant mother furnishing a baby’s room, a couple designing a home theatre, a parent building a fish tank for their child—shoppers need to be inspired and guided to a final solution. Retailers understand that addressing a consumer’s end goal is the key to driving more sales, yet doing this with human interactions is expensive. So, I expect to see increasingly sophisticated shopper assistance tools emerge from the simple product selectors of today. Retailers are keenly focused on the problem, and a few are ready to test solutions.
Closely related to inspiration is the idea of cross-selling. Retailers are interested in technology that helps them add items to a shopper’s basket by reaching across the store to cross-sell many product categories. I get the sense from retailers that this is an area in need of improvement. Customer-facing technologies that draw upon in-store and online inventories to automatically suggest the best complementary goods will likely be tested in the coming year.
Another recurring theme is a desire to provide quality customer service where today’s economics simply do not allow it. Many complex products do not sell in enough volume or at high enough prices to justify having human experts in the store. Several retailers see technology as the way forward. Expert systems can give customers the additional product education they need to make an informed choice, while sparing the cost of additional store labor. Expect to see customer-facing technologies deployed most commonly around these so-called "marginal" product categories.
Finally, with recessionary pressures on staffing levels, retailers want to make the most out of their store staff through sales process automation. They want humans doing what humans do best—guiding customers through complex, personalized, real-world product problems and decisions. For the 80 percent of any selling process that is the same for every customer, retailers are looking for technological solutions that do this work, letting store associates handle more customers in a given period of time. In a sense, self-checkout was only the beginning. The phrase I have heard is "moving customers from questions to the counter" as quickly as possible. I personally view this as challenging to execute in practice and anticipate some failed trials, given the need for seamless integration between store personnel and in-store technology. However, the first retailer to do it will reap significant rewards and set the stage for the future of retail.
The year ahead is shaping up to be an exciting one for in-store technologies. Recession-induced paralysis seems to be over and retailers seem to have a clear view of how they want to move forward. If they succeed in deploying the right solutions, it will be a winning year for everyone—shoppers, retailers, and even technology suppliers.
The writer is CEO of Intava.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Supermarket giant Tesco recently created a buzz in the industry by opening a concept store (in Kingsley, Northampton) with just self-checkout lanes and no cashiers. Understandably, the reaction to this initiative from various quarters has been mixed. While Tesco claims that customers have reacted positively to the idea, workers’ unions have predictably expressed serious concerns over the implications of completely eliminating cashiers at the checkout point.
This move shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone tracking the evolution of self-service in the retail sector. In fact, it was entirely along expected lines. Despite the sizeable initial investment, there has been a clear shift towards self-checkout since the turn of this century, especially by big-box chains. Retailers are studying ways to attract new customers (in addition to retaining existing ones) and in this context, self-checkout has been positioned as a technology solution that can drive up customer satisfaction levels, leading to a more lasting relationship. Not to mention the cost savings.
And therein lies the rub.
Studies reveal that 20 percent to 30 percent of the payroll in retail is typically directed toward cashiers. With self-checkout, this figure can be brought down considerably. The key is to get a commitment to the cause at all levels, from top management to store managers and cashiers. While it’s true that self-service lanes would create some redundancies, the primary aim is to redeploy resources to service-oriented areas in the store. The redistribution of cost savings to other productive areas needs to be clearly articulated to store-level staff for this to work.
And there are the operational realities, of course. Retailers often tend to understaff self-checkout lanes, which can cause considerable delays if inexperienced users create a bottleneck. More often than not, consumers who become confused or embarrassed about their inability to complete a transaction tend to avoid self-checkout in the future. This makes the initial few transactions crucial from the retailer’s perspective. Studies also indicate that self-checkout systems lead to a marked decrease in impulse purchases — low-priced products such as candy, mints, chocolates, soda, water, chips and gum are placed around the cash counters. This can be attributed to the fact that customers have to focus on the checkout process completely. Inevitably, there are nagging security issues that need to be addressed as well.
None of this detracts from the obvious value proposition of self-checkout — when designed and implemented correctly, it can enhance the customer experience at the store and drive top-line growth. Most importantly, it leads to an increase in labor productivity and resource utilization. Labor productivity essentially refers to two aspects: The first is to remove the labor element itself, as an obvious cost-cutting measure. The second is to redirect the labor or resource into other departments where it can be better utilized, such as restocking shelves, bagging groceries or helping customers as they make purchases. Counter-intuitively, self-checkout can end up enhancing personalized service at the store, although it might appear to be leading to impersonalization. The consumer experience, always driven by speed, is made more efficient as customers can get out of the store faster. The privacy and convenience provided by these systems doesn’t hurt either.
The bottom line
Customers like choice. Studies show they are growing increasingly comfortable with self-service systems, such as ATMs and kiosks at airport terminals. Self-checkout, if offered alongside an optimal number of staff cashiers, is a definite positive. With time, the number of cashiers needed to supervise checkout lanes will decrease. In fact, the future might be even more radically different once RFID/mobile-POS/smartphone-enabled checkouts gain prevalence. Although the industry is not ready for a widespread rollout of self-service-only stores, this is the right time to experiment. Besides, the marginal cost-savings offered by self-checkout might be too good to pass up on during these tough economic times.
Aravindh Vanchesan is a program manager with the Frost & Sullivan North American ICT practice. He focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and dynamics in retail markets worldwide.
Monday, 26 October 2009
In the ongoing battle to attract and retain consumer mindshare, retailers are increasingly turning to innovative marketing mediums to engage and stay top-of-mind with consumers. Gone are the days of unlocking the door and turning on the radio; today’s retailers are pressing fast-forward to fully customized soundtracks. Paper POP table tents and static signage are being replaced by sophisticated digital media networks.
Smart companies are implementing ways to take the in-store experience beyond the lease line to extend brand affinity, drive consumer behavior and provide relevant lifestyle content to the consumer. All these advancements aim to enhance the shopping experience, lifting it to more than just a trip to a store, but rather a theatrical experience where purchasing merchandise is only part of the journey.
Not only are these solutions successful at engaging consumers, but they have also been proven to extend dwell time and increase brand awareness – key factors in ongoing loyalty and long-term buying relationships. Keeping consumers inside the store is even more important today than it has been in past years. The current economic downturn has meant a loss in revenue, so on those days when consumers are out and about, it is imperative that a retailer attract them, keep them in store, and close the sale. Just as important is that, as your customers go mobile, so must your brand.
A recent Retail Systems Research report ("Walking the Razor’s Edge: Managing the Store Experience in an Economic Singularity," June 2009) states 70 percent of retailers surveyed said they use in-store technologies to maintain or improve the customer experience and extend that experience past the lease line. According to the same report, two-thirds of the retailers surveyed said they have reduced their payrolls in the wake of the economic slide, but those same two-thirds of retailers surveyed have not changed the expenditures devoted to in-store technology.
So, what are some key elements of the "store as theater" retailers can take advantage of to increase mindshare, and stay connected and engaged with their customers?
The eyes have it
Digital signage is becoming the fastest-growing segment of retail media and advertisers are taking note; a 2007 Forrester survey found 72 percent of advertisers are looking at in-store media as an alternative to traditional advertising. In-store digital signage has the power to effectively relay brand messages to consumers by providing the message diversification needed to captivate shoppers in a new way.
With digital signage networks, advertisers can target consumers in different parts of a store, in different locations, in different ways, at different times of the day, delivering some of the most target-specific visual marketing yet. For example, signage content at an athletic retailer might run footage and/or related product advertising in the footwear section of the store, while the exercise equipment section highlights an instructional video on a specific piece of equipment. According to industry research, in-store messaging drives a 40-percent uptick in sales. It does this because it has the ability to be personal and connect with a consumer on a different level.
Digital signage increases traffic, which in turn increases the capacity to capture the consumer. Gaining a shopper’s attention by placing that consumer into the messaging is a key factor in increasing brand awareness and sales. For instance, a person who is passionate about surfing may see themselves as the focal point of a sign on display at their local surf shop. They connect with the image and are therefore drawn to that store, creating a more loyal following.
They’re all ears
Much like digital signage has the ability to draw a shopper’s attention through visual elements, music attracts consumers through emotion and sound. Customized playlists that put brand to music have the ability to focus on specific demographics, catering to a certain genre and style while staying true to your brand essence. And with choices ranging from commercial satellite subscriptions and pre-arranged "mixes" to regularly updated fully custom programming, there is an option to fit every environment and budget.
In-store music is another area that has benefitted from technology. While many retailers still opt for their programming to be delivered via CD, more and more are choosing to have their tunes delivered over the Internet. Internet delivery has a number of advantages, including ease-of-use and fewer requirements of the on-site store employees. More sophisticated systems/services even allow for track selection and message insertion right from a Web browser.
In selecting a music provider, it is vital to make sure their service enables a level of customization that will fit your current and future needs. Things like day-parting — arranging music for different vibes to coincide for different times of the day — and a true understanding of how to convey your brand via music can make or break the in-store experience. Finally, make sure your chosen provider is current with their licensing agreements. In-store music is "public performance", and leading providers can handle all licensing so you know you’re legal.
Brand on the run
It is more important than ever that retailers implement strategies to take the in-store experience to consumers, wherever they are, to extend brand engagement beyond the lease line. This "anywhere concept" truly extends the lease line of a retailer by allowing consumers to be exposed to branded entertainment media at any moment, whether its an hour or a week after the consumer has left the store.
Mobile, Web radio, branded podcasts, artist promotions and compilation CDs are powerful vehicles for reaching consumers. They provide the means to remain engaged with consumers across multiple touch points, while delivering personalized content that extends brand visibility and affinity. Whether cooking dinner in their kitchen, out for a jog, or sitting in their cubicle at work, an entertainment media campaign keeps your brand in front of consumers on their terms, making sure you stay top-of-mind.
Retailers that can target consumers with multiple touch points at various points of the day and week, in various locations and regions, with branded content and messaging are the retailers who become most successful. These retailers have learned that, for consumers, the shopping experience is not just about selling products — it’s about creating a shopping experience which is fun and exciting, and establishes a true brand connection.
Craig Hubbell is executive vice president of media services for PlayNetwork Inc., where he is responsible for all media services, including music services, video display, and advertising and entertainment services.
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."
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
Learn more about the exhibitors at this year's NRF show at Retail Customer Experience: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
One exhibit that drew a lot of buzz at NRF this year was the wine kiosk at the Curiosk Marketing Solutions booth. The wine kiosk allows a retail customer to scan a bottle of wine to get additional information about the wine, ensuring a wise purchase. Users can get tasting notes, food pairing information and can create a preset or typed personal greeting to attach to the bottle of wine if given as a gift. Josh Rosen of Curiosk shows how.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
2008 has come and gone, ushering in some of the most practical self-service applications to ever hit the industry. There were the rising stars – the redboxes, the SoloHealths and the Mod Systems of the world. But as the old saying goes, not every elevator makes it to the top floor. There were other deployments that ...
Let's just say that when the votes are tallied and final story of mankind's achievement is told, they'll certainly raise some eyebrows.
In just a moment, you're going to read about some of those kiosks. I can tell you the who, the what - and in some cases - the where.
What I can't tell you is why.
And therein lies the tale. Some of them have legitmate purposes, while others call into question their being. All of them are characterized by a quirky edge. For the truth of the matter is, these deployments have one leg in objective reality, and the other in that shadowy realm mere mortals refer to simply as "the unknown."
…And now they're subheads on SelfService.org's "Weirdest of 2008" list.
#5 – Student Performance Kiosks.
For most shoppers, the local grocery store is an open inventory of food, supplies, clothing – the bare necessities of life. But things are different in Grand Valley, Colo. – particularly in a little area known to the locals as School District 51. Six City Market grocery stores populate the district, each containing computer kiosks. But you won't be able to pay your bills or purchase gift cards here. Instead, these kiosks tell you about your children. According to The Daily Sentinel, parents can use the kiosks to look up their child's school grades, attendance records, assignments and lunch expenditures. And they don't dispense prepaid phone cards, they schedule parent-teacher conferences. It's an unexpected partnership between City Market, the county government and Bresnan Communications. Practical, you say? Maybe so. But if you're a middle school student worried about the grade you got on that Ernest Hemmingway book report, you might think twice before asking mom and dad to swing by the grocery store to pick up some Wheaties ...
#4 – Self-service book binding kiosks.
There's nothing new or inherently bizarre about swiping your card and having a kiosk dispense the latest entry in a long list of summer reading. But deep in the heart of New York City – a bustling metropolis where unsuspecting men and women in well-tailored business suits scurry about their mundane tasks – one company is building a horse of a different color. For the Espresso book ATM created by On Demand Books doesn't just dispense the books – it builds them for you. It accepts pdf files from the user, prints, mills, aligns, glues and dispenses professionally bound books in only seven minutes. Book covers come in four colors. It may be something for the local Kinko's to consider, but don't look for it at the airport anytime soon.
#3 – Carbon offset kiosks.
Submitted for your approval: a world held in the unmerciful grip of an economic recession. As businesses fight bankruptcy like gladiators in some ancient coliseum, men and women struggle to hold on to what little currency they have. Against this backdrop, one San Francisco company, 3Degrees, unveils a kiosk that takes the user's money and, in exchange, provides them with a certificate of no tangible benefit whatsoever. So it is with the carbon offset kiosks now deployed at the San Francisco International Airport. Travelers guilt-ridden with the knowledge that their flight spewed harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere can volunteer to swipe their cards and pay compensation in the form of carbon offsets. I don't name this kiosk to call into question the value of ecological responsibility. Instead, mine is an issue of timing, for the time at which the kiosks are deployed is the one time consumers can't afford to use them. It's an irony found only on the SelfService.org "Weirdest of 2008" list.
#2 – The Robot kiosk.
You can't judge a book by its cover. Whoever penned that adage probably wasn't looking at this Robot kiosk designed by NEC and demonstrated at the iEXPO 2008 trade show in Japan. The kiosk is a replica of a life-sized android.
But it just dispenses tickets -- it's not alive, you say. Don't be so sure. According to pinktentacle.com, the kiosk can use facial recognition technology to identify, single out and target ads to individuals. It's not without its critics, however.
As a blogger on dvice.com stated, "Clearly, it's jut a ticket kiosk. It's not a robot. It can't walk around, it isn't sentient. It's just shaped like a robot, and we aren't fooled by it. Those legs are just for decoration. Weak, Japan."
Tough medicine from a skeptic or frantic words fueled by fear? In any case, if you happen to be at an amusement park and get the strange feeling something – or someone – is looking over your shoulder, don't panic. Just reach into your wallet, pull out your credit card and buy a ticket to that jazz concert…before those lifeless eyes zero in on you.
#1 – Marijuana kiosks.
Chalk this deployment up as something that could only happen in Los Angeles. A series of kiosks deploys medical marijuana – cash for hash, so to speak. Not only did this deployment catch the eye of us at SelfService.org, but it also raised eyebrows at the U.N.'s International Narcotics Control Board in Vienna, who quickly ruled that the machines are illegal and should be shut down. Let's just say it's one more notch in a long tally of self-service experiments that maybe should have never made if off the drawing board.
So there you have it – five kiosk deployments that served as monuments to the bizarre in 2008. As we plunge headlong into 2009, we have no doubt that there will be even more wacky and fantastic entries for this year's list. If you happen to be at a seminar, a trade show or just picking up groceries on a Saturday afternoon and you stumble upon a kiosk deployment that doesn't quite fit the mold, don't panic. There's no need to hide the children. Just snap a picture, write a brief description and e-mail it to .
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.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Although I'll never be selected to get anywhere near the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, I do love the game of golf. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to enjoy it at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Calif., as I strolled up and down the dunes and watched the play at the USGA's 2008 U.S. Open.
This is where I found myself this past June.
When some very generous friends from the Digital Signage Association invited me to join them to see how the pros swing (thanks Ed Hovsepian of Visual Incite!), I couldn’t resist stealing some time away from the office. Besides, it would give me a chance to visit with two of my favorite San Diegonians: Sylvia and Peter Berens, co-founders of Apunix.
Sylvia Berens (pictured right) shows off an Apunix deli-ordering kiosk with an Apunix executive employee.
If you're an association member and you've never heard Sylvia's name mentioned, you probably haven't been an association member for very long. She was there when we started the Self-Service & Kiosk Association at Bay Hill in Orlando back in 2001. Sylvia is practically a matriarch of the self-service industry, and has been an SSKA board and executive committee member for all these years. I can't count the number of times Sylvia has piped in to contribute valuable insight to our association meetings, and we've only benefited from her pearls of wisdom.
So it was a no-brainer for me to swing by Apunix while I was in the neighborhood.
I have to say, the first thing I discovered was that there's much more to Sylvia than entrepreneurship, software and revenue projections. In fact her company (co-founded with husband, Peter) is no longer her most precious commodity. For that distinction, you have to look to the three rambunctious bundles of joy that light up her home: daughters Malika, 15; Madina, 12; and Zarina, 9.
Sylvia and Peter travelled all the way to Kazakhstan to adopt these precious youngsters — children who didn't know a word of English. Today, they speak it fluently. They're going through all the wonderful experiences that kids their age should — making new friends, enjoying sports and excelling in school. When I met with Sylvia, she was coordinating a last-day-of-school party to catapult the kids into summer vacation. Not exactly what you'd expect from a hard-nosed capitalist, but in the Berens family, kids come before dollar signs.
Sylvia was kind enough to give me the grand tour of the Apunix facility — and it's very professional! Located in the northern suburbs of San Diego, the series of offices practically buzzes with quiet activity from its workforce of 20 employees working on some of the most interesting self-service applications around.
There's a lot going on at Apunix. One of the most interesting projects they've been involved with is the creation of a customized, made-from-scratch software platform for Sun Microsystems' visitor check-in kiosks. That platform — which does not run on the Windows operating system — makes use of Linux and Sun's Java solution and was created using a toolkit Apunix developed for the self-service industry. It's a totally unique system, and we covered it extensively on Self-Service World. Click here to read more about it. When I think back on my IBM days, I recognize just how difficult it is to build something like that from the ground up. Peter and Sylvia have reason to take pride in their work.
Another thing that struck me was the sheer breadth of self-service options they have. Sylvia showed me kiosks of all shapes and sizes, from a $500 handset used to place food orders, to hefty play-and-win kiosks destined for casino game rooms. If anyone ever thought the self-service industry was slowing down, one visit to Apunix would blow those misconceptions away.
Ever the good steward, Sylvia is even getting into the environmental protection business. In conjunction with UC Davis, Apunix has developed touchscreen kiosks that show users how to take care of home and garden pests — prairie dogs, ground squirrels, groundhogs and the like — in an environmentally-friendly manner. They're already appearing in county offices, county fairs and Home Depots in the area.
I left Apunix confident in the company's leadership position and in the self-service industry as a whole. What a privilege it is to be working with innovators like Sylvia and Peter Berens. Thank you both for the direction you've given the association thus far – and here's to many more years of collaboration in the future.
Now if only I could find someone to help me with my putting!
Monday, 04 February 2008
It was an accident really.
I’m not a lawbreaker – at least not at heart. Up until now (except for a few too many speeding tickets and a hefty library fine) my record has been spotless.
But the other day at the grocery store, I just…
Well, I just lost it.
It was the Saturday before Christmas. I had a basket full of junk food and I was ready to check out. Being one of the faithful few who still believe it’s absolutely immoral to go through the express lane with more than 12 items, I got in line at one of those “unlimited goods” self-checkout U-scan terminals.
The line was long. When I finally got to use the terminal, the woman behind me was all too willing to dish out Christmas cheer by crowding me with her shopping cart. Her frozen stare screamed two words without actually saying them: Hurry up. I scanned my 15 items and looked at the price: $31 and change. Moving as quickly as I could, I scooted over to the end of the terminal to bag my own goods. Then I was out the door.
I was halfway through the frigid parking lot before it dawned on me that I forgot to pay.
I've just stolen groceries, I thought. I’m a criminal. A shoplifter. Any minute now, a cop with an uncanny resemblance to Joe Friday is going to plant my nose in the pavement, take me downtown and book me in a cell with rats the size of small dogs.
The bottom line is I turned around, marched right back into the store and threw myself on the mercy of the court. The kind, old lady behind the service desk was more than happy to run my debit card and let bygones be bygones.
It was embarrassing, but it got me thinking.
According to this article by the Press Association, the U.K.’s national news agency, roughly 2 million Britons admitted to stealing goods when using supermarket self-checkout terminals. The admissions came during a survey conducted by British security firm G4S. That’s a disturbingly high number, but not entirely unexpected. It’s much easier to abscond with the crown jewels when the Royal Guard is looking the other way. The term “self-service” means exactly that: You serve yourself. There are no cashiers giving you one-on-one supervision at the POS.
When you put it that way, it’s not surprising that dishonest people choose to behave dishonestly. But what about the poor saps like me who aren’t looking for loopholes — we just happen to trip and fall through them?
The store was crowded, noisy and I was in a hurry. Add to that the fact that this was one of the high-volume U-scans with a long ramp: the bagging area is several feet away from the touchscreen terminal, where the speaker is located. In a crowded store, it can be difficult to hear the speaker’s constant mantra of, “Please select payment method … Please select payment method … Please select payment method” from that distance.
Fortunately for the store, one alert cashier happened to spot my faux pas and call after me. Unfortunately for the store, she wasn’t very athletic and I was out of earshot by the time she made it to the door.
I hate to say it, but it was easy for me to snatch, grab and make my escape: So easy that I did it inadvertently. And if it’s easy to do it now, then what about in the future when we take self-service to the next level?
For instance, take a look at this story written by my colleague, Patrick Avery, editor of Self-Service World. It paints a vivid picture of the future of retail self-service: a future in which checkout lanes are eliminated altogether and customers carry handheld barcode scanners which enable them to check, bag, and pay as they go.
One can just imagine the security challenges that will face the industry then. How many people will try to run off with the scanners? How many will forget about them and accidentally leave them in their shopping cart or purse? (Perhaps a carefully-placed RFID tag could be used as an alarm trigger if someone tried walk out the door with an unauthorized scanner.)
The ultimate in self-service checkout, of course, is described by Joseph Grove in this story, in which the handheld scanner is done away with altogether in favor of a system which would instantaneously detect, scan and price all the items in your grocery cart.
Assuming those groceries have an RFID tag. Sure, most grocery items can be fitted with the tag, but are you going to stick one on everything? What about produce? How do you put an RFID tag on a grapefruit?
Don’t get me wrong: far be it from me to shoot down progress. I’m counting down the days until RFID checkout becomes the norm. We just have to realize that, as we give consumers more freedom and less supervision, we’re going to have to confront some issues head-on.
Some things we can learn from all this:
Lesson No. 1: Security for a self-service device means more than stopping the malevolent malcontent who wants to make a grab at getting some free groceries. Sometimes it means having a “fool-proof” plan in place to keep klutzes like me from throwing a cog in the works — and getting some free groceries.
Lesson No. 2: Self-service is an amazing technology, but it will never completely replace the vigilant employee. If ever there was an argument for having your employees closely involved with the implementation of your self-service project, my Christmas experience does a pretty good job of qualifying.
Lesson No. 3: As the self-service industry moves forward, security will continue to be a pressing issue. The more the industry empowers consumers (including the malevolent and incompetent ones), the harder it will have to work to seal any security gaps. That means being proactive and spotting those gaps before the bad guys do.
I’m sure the hardware and software gurus will be burning the midnight oil over the next couple of years as we take it to the next level. And I’m sure they’ll make the transition as smooth and secure as possible.
In closing, I just want to get one thing straight. After reading this commentary, you may be left wondering whether or not this editor is a crook.
Well, I’m not a crook.
Monday, 19 November 2007
It’s a familiar scene in many houses on the fourth Thursday in November: Relatives young and old chat together, cousins and siblings play football in the back yard, and the introverts watch old Westerns in the basement. In the kitchen, an assortment of gourmet gurus peel aluminum foil off the Thanksgiving dishes they’ve prepared.
But how does an inexperienced cook even begin to contribute to the family feast?
One place to start is the grocery. Recipe and shopping kiosks come to the aid of those in dire need of culinary support. During the month leading up to Thanksgiving, some self-service devices provide recipes and shopping lists of ingredients for such culinary emergencies.
ShoptoCook, a provider of turnkey meal content kiosks, places a seasonal button on its kiosks, which are deployed in more than 200 grocery and retail stores. Leading up to Thanksgiving, the recipes there provide dozens of basic recipes for turkey, stuffing, vegetables and deserts. Advanced dishes, not for first-timers, also are available.
“It’s during that whole holiday season that people need help with what to cook,” said John Picard, chief operating officer of ShoptoCook Inc. “Many are interested in trying something new.”
In fact, Picard said, many experienced cooks want to impress and entertain their guests with new recipes. ShoptoCook’s kiosk provides an assortment of new deserts and side dishes that were not an option the year before.
And when the feast is finished, the kiosk even has ideas for the leftovers.
“The seasonal buttons are very popular,” Picard said. “It is a key part of what we offer.”
Giant Food Stores, a deployer of several self-service solutions, offers its own Shopping Solutions and Recipe Solutions kiosks. The search capability lets eager hosts search for innovative Thanksgiving recipes. Its kiosks include recipes for roast turkey with corn bread stuffing, pumpkin pie, cranberry relish, roasted zucchini and yam casserole. Many of the recipes also come with preparation and nutrition information.
For those looking to interject some healthy alternatives into their Thanksgiving feast for friends and family with special dietary requirements, Portland, Ore.-based Healthnotes Inc.’s “Fresh Ideas” kiosks offer tips and recipes on fresh foods and health-related products. The Healthnotes kiosks include content on fresh foods, organics, diets, supplements and medications, as well as science-based product recommendations for managing health conditions, and even wines.
Connoisseurs who are especially serious about what they toast their turkey with can find kiosks that exclusively offer beverage assistance. According to a June Newsweek story, roughly half a dozen companies are testing and marketing interactive touchscreen wine kiosks for placement in grocery and liquor stores, as well as in wine shops. The kiosks allow shoppers to search for wines by name, grape, region, price or menu compatibility.
No matter what your experience level in the kitchen, self-service tools can help bring together a fine dining experience.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
The National Association of Convenience Store trade show is a smorgasbord of M&M’s, salted soft pretzels, adult magazines and gas pump displays. But the annual expo also draws its share of self-service companies and deployers.
This year’s NACS conference was no different on that end. However, many of the self-service devices on display were products that have been on the market for more than a year, not up and coming, innovative products that usually take over the trade show circuit. Some of those kiosks might have added features like multiple languages but they were hardly re-imagined.
Is this a sign that the kiosk market is running out of steam and product ideas are running dry? The answer is most likely not.
Many of the companies in attendance at NACS are entering the convenience store space for the first time. Coinstar, which owns half of DVD rental company redbox along with McDonald’s, showcased the DVD-rental kiosk. Coinstar and redbox announced plans at NACS to deploy more than two dozen DVD-rental kiosks in convenience stores across the United States. Coinstar plans to have 300 of the kiosks in place by the end of 2007.
NCR, Triton and others in the ATM space are also landing in c-stores. They have already been there for years, but are continuing to deploy more and more, particular in smaller grocery chains.
A traditional, successful kiosk solution bodes well for convenience stores. In a retail environment where quick is best, a kiosk that is user friendly and familiar will get customers in and out of the store speedily. A complicated, yet innovative, kiosk would no doubt look very attractive in a c-store space, but likely confuse those in a hurry.
This is not to say that a multi-dimensional, never before seen, kiosk couldn’t make it. Something like a gift-card kiosk or the digital media kiosk MAX BOX could give c-store patrons something they are looking for and not have them loitering.
As mobile and Internet self-service makes its way into the market more prominently (some would already say they are the most prominent), it will be interesting to see what happens to the standalone kiosk. I’m not sure you will see customers use their cell phones to text in an order for a pop and a candy bar. Likewise, an Internet site to preorder your gasoline and get a sandwich at the c-store deli is unlikely.
So I imagine the tried and true kiosks that have worked successfully for years and have ingrained themselves in key markets will be around.
Monday, 08 October 2007
RoboTom’s, developed by the York, Pa.-based Shipley Stores LLC and opened in September 2001, is considered by many to be the first fully automated convenience store in the United States. Although it closed in 2004, the idea of an automated store lives on as convenience stores continue to examine how vending can minimize labor and real estate costs and maximize consumer satisfaction.
Shipley’s designed RoboTom’s sites to be a complete convenience experience with several vending machines offering convenience-store staples and hot food items such as pizza, while also providing unattended fueling.
How did Shipley’s come up with the idea of RoboTom? “We had a location that we really didn’t know what to do with at the time,” said Roger Fuller, Shipley’s store systems administrator.
“We got initial good reaction, but I don’t think the community was ready for that — to go to an unmanned convenience store and get their oil and milk out of the same machine, even though they never touched each other. We were a few years ahead of where our community was ready to be,” he said.
In another market, Shipley’s opened a second, scaled down RoboTom’s that enjoyed better customer reception. Still, the base wasn’t there and the company discontinued its operations.
But the story of vending doesn’t end there. In 2003, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) profiled three more entrants into vending:
- Redbox, a small-footprint vending operation outside a handful of McDonald’s restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area featured dozens of convenience items and even DVD rentals. Its original format was, like RoboTom’s, discontinued in 2004, but redbox continues to evolve.
- In the United Kingdom, grocery chain J Sainsbury opened a fully automated, 130-SKU vending operation outside of one of its convenience stores. The vending option was intended for customers who wanted to shop in the wee hours, when the convenience store was closed. To Sainsbury’s surprise, it became popular with customers at all times, even when the convenience store was open.
- SmartMart, in Memphis, Tenn., opened in 2003 as the world’s first fully automated drive-thru convenience store where customers can select from 2,000 items via touchscreen. For age-restricted product sales, an interactive video system is used to verify the customer’s age.
And last year the vending story continued as NACS profiled Shop24, located on the campus of Morrisville College in upstate New York.
Shop24 is not a new concept — its units are installed in seven countries and have recorded more than 60 million consumer transactions in 160 locations throughout Europe. However, its U.S. debut was November 2005 at Morrisville College, where it offered students and employees 24-hour access to 200 items, from soda to milk to iPod download cards.
The reason for installing Shop24 was pure economics, said Glenn Gaslin, general manager of the Morrisville Auxiliary Corporation, which manages student services. For 15 years the school operated a convenience store with limited hours of operation, and its sales never covered its expenses. “We were losing money, and we weren’t providing the service I thought we should provide,” he said. “When we made a decision to install Shop24, we knew that the students would like this.”
By making Shop24 and all of the other vending machines capable of accepting student IDs for payment, sales rocketed. “They absolutely love it. Our sales increased 40 percent just by adding the card swipe on the machine. They don’t have to carry cash. All they need is their ID card. It’s the same card they use to get into their residence hall room and into a lot of the classrooms,” Gaslin said.
Shop24 also stocks sandwiches and students find them a convenient option at any hour.” They get the munchies at two in the morning. This is available to them. They come right down, put their card in, and they got a sub and off they go.”
“I don’t think it’s a 100-percent replacement for a convenience store, where you can go in and if you want to buy a coffee and set it up for the exact amount of sugar and cream that you want and shop around what you want for a snack,” Gaslin said. “But it will replace the 24-hour need — the convenience store that’s open 24 hours a day and does $10 in sales between midnight and five in the morning.”
“It’s just a convenience store that’s run by a computer and a robot.”
Shipley’s Fuller said, “[RoboTom’s] was a good concept. We learned that the customer was just not ready for that concept in the convenience store industry.”
But as more entrants have begun to evolve the concept, it appears that the customer is warming up to the idea.
Jeff Lenard is NACS vice president of communications and oversees media relations, communications and marketing on behalf of the convenience and petroleum retailing industry.
Monday, 27 August 2007
Concern over high credit card fees paid by merchants is not a new issue, particularly for those in the convenience store and petroleum retail space. But now that you can use your credit or debit card to purchase a pack of chewing gum, a newspaper from a vending machine and rent a movie from a kiosk, retailers are increasingly paying attention to how credit card transaction fees can take a large bite out of the profit on small transactions.
The term “micropayment” originated with e-commerce and meant payments for items less than one cent as content providers were looking for a way to charge for page views rather than accept advertising. More recently, the term has been used to mean small transactions, typically a dollar or less.
iTunes, which charges between 99 cents and $1.29 for songs, bills customers on a weekly basis, presumably to aggregate charges and minimize interchange fees.
The brouhaha around small or micro payments has been the interchange fees, which is the fees charged by card issuers like MasterCard or Visa on each transaction. Interchange fee structures can be complicated, with a flat fee plus a percentage of the transaction based on several different factors. For small payments, the percentage is not the issue, the flat fee is.
Recently I spoke with Eric Hoersten, vice president of information technology for redbox, which rents DVDs through a kiosk for $1 per night at various grocery store and McDonalds locations throughout the U.S. He explained to me the challenge of a fee structure that does not lend itself to lower ticket items.
For example, if the fixed fee is 15 cents per transaction, it’s 15% of a $1 transaction versus .005% of a $30 transaction. And that’s not counting the percentage of the transaction, which can be an additional two to three percent. This can make charging for low cost items prohibitive.
Hoersten believes that more retailers would leverage a cashless transaction if the fees weren’t so steep. This is ironic considering that the major card providers are pushing for more of a cashless society. The move to contactless cards is one more way to make it easier to pay with cards instead of cash. Hoersten thinks that retailers want to go more cashless since handling cash has challenges of its own and in redbox’s case, they need that credit card number in case the DVD is not returned.
I asked Hoersten if he had any tips for other kiosk deployers who accept credit cards for small payments. He said that how you are classified by the card issuer is important since some categories have lower fees than others.
- Pay attention to the fees that are assessed
- Look at how these fees are applied
- Different types of processors can have different fees so search for one that has the best fee
- Have a comprehensive view of the situation before entering that market
- Interchange fees are “the deciding factor” for the category you’re in
He also pointed out that new technology and market conditions have lowered the cost. For example:
- New communication options exist, such as cellular or IP/internet-based connections, instead of the traditional costly and slow land line.
- Terminals and leased lines are cheaper than they used to be.
- There is a greater ability for companies to accept credit cards and set up a merchant account.
Hoersten says that the self-service industry needs to join in the fight to lobby for fees that are not as prohibitive. He holds out hope that interchange fees will go down or that card issuers will release a rate structure that is more accommodating.
“In the micropayments space,” he says, “every penny makes a big difference.”
Monday, 30 July 2007
Philip Hunter is the managing director of KioskCom Europe Self Service Expo. The 2007 Expo will be held November 6-7, 2007, at Olympia in London.
Although the Web has now changed the way we purchase everything from CDs and DVDs to vacations, flights and hotel bookings, people still want to get out of their houses and shop in person. After all, we are social animals.
However now that we have had a taste of how easy and convenient buying can be on line, we are less willing to stand in queues and have a limited choice of products and ranges when in-store. As a result, we see the rise of the “hybrid consumer."
There is an intense battle raging for a share of the wallet of the hybrid consumer – those moving between online and traditional interactions in search of the best customer experience. It is becoming patently clear that the Internet is not enough: successful multi-channel strategies require more than just online and traditional face-to-face options.
A key to satisfying the demands of the valuable hybrid is the adoption of the latest self-service technology. Indeed, the increasing number of organizations now using self-service technology are achieving a proven sales uplift of six to eight percent, as well as gaining improvements in customer service and a flexible business model.
In an increasingly competitive market with fast rising customer acquisition costs, complacency demonstrated by many organizations could prove expensive. Self-service is becoming a critical component of overall strategy so as these technologies now come of age, can any customer-facing organization afford to miss out?
There are some great success stories – notably from the airline industry. According to a recent survey by SITA, the airline industry’s move towards self-service is saving billions of dollars every year. Air Canada has confirmed it now costs $0.16 to check in travelers via a self-service kiosk as opposed to $3.68 to process the transaction via an employee.
And other industries are now following suit. Self-service kiosks in North American retail locations will rise 69 percent this year, according to Summit Research, and retailers show a six to eight percent increase in incremental sales when kiosks are placed in store.
Brave new world
Without doubt, the concept of self-service is changing. Gone are the days of the dated vending machine that accepted limited coin options. With the rise in secure payments via chip and PIN and the imminent arrival of card-based contactless payments to replace under-£10 cash transactions, self-service technologies are really coming of age.
Other innovations include the vending machine that allows customers to download music to their iPods from the same machine that sells Coke and kiosks that can recharge your mobile phone, to contactless Minority Report-style motion sensor screens where you can activate buttons, turn pages and interact without even touching a screen.
Flexible Business Model
The uplift in sales opportunity is clear. And this is a key component of the self-service model. With organizations increasingly using analytics to tailor products and services to meet the needs of the local demographic, the kiosk enables a far broader product range to be available irrespective of actual space.
For the retailer struggling to attain adequate space in the high street or looking to trial new formats, a kiosk provides customers with access to online catalogues that encompass a far broader range of goods than could ever be carried in store.
Furthermore, the kiosk provides the hybrid customer with the required speed and quality of service experience without queuing or interacting with staff.
However, while the technology is increasingly attractive, it is critical that organizations leverage self-service technology correctly to deliver an excellent and relevant customer experience. As a Forrester report asserts, “Kiosks are back on the retail radar screen due to increasing competition, technology advances, and changing consumer demands.”
However, the report continues, “Successful kiosks carry complex integration requirements and require careful consideration of consumer behavior and their attitudes toward technology. To avoid the big flop that kiosks experienced in the late '90s, kiosks require a focused approach and dedicated support; if deployed well, kiosks will yield tangible business benefits.” However, as most Web retailers now know, one bad experience means the ever fickle hybrid consumer will quickly go else where.
Innovative self-service technology combined with secure payment methods may attract the hybrid consumer, but getting it right first time applies as much in the kiosk as it does online. A poor or inconsistent experience, backed up by inadequate fulfillment processes will fail.
Self-service technologies are not just another option for the emerging multi-channel business strategy, they will be increasingly critical in redefining the entire consumer experience.
Monday, 09 July 2007
The writer is president of Summit Research Associates Inc.
The kiosk industry is booming, especially in the retail sector. When digital photography kiosks are included in the count of retail kiosks, fully 50 percent of all kiosks fall into this category.
The key to successful kiosk deployments is location, location, location. A successful placement relies on a true understanding of shopper habits. Often deployers feel that they have placed a kiosk in the best possible location but discover that usage is far lower than expected. To get some idea why this happens, we will take a look at one of the fast-growing venues for kiosks, supermarkets.
Research was conducted at grocery stores in the western United States by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. They concentrated on how shoppers navigate stores with their carts. Their findings should be considered when planning future kiosk deployments in these types of venues.
Shoppers do not weave up and down each aisle as previously thought. They zigzag to specific aisles sometimes avoiding whole areas of a store. For kiosk deployments, end caps have proven to be some of the best locations. More people see products displayed at each end of an aisle than anywhere else in a store.
Shoppers spend less time in the aisles than assumed; instead they stick to the perimeter of the store, using it as the main road with quick side trips to the aisles they need. As a result, products displayed at the ends of the aisles near the perimeter are vital for luring the shoppers in.
They also zip in and out of the aisles. Once they enter an aisle, shoppers rarely make it to the other end. As a result, products located in the center of an aisle are frequently ignored.
A good example validating this recommendation was found at Home Depot in a pilot project they conducted at 15 stores along the East Coast. The kiosk was not only placed in the middle of a long aisle, but it was located in a niche — set in from the aisle by three or four feet so that it was not visible from either end. People could not find the kiosk. And, even worse, there was no signage on the aisle to draw the shoppers’ attention to it.
Just like U.S. drivers, shoppers like to enter a store on the right or turn right as soon as they enter the store. Then shoppers prefer to shop in a counterclockwise direction. A key finding was that shoppers who enter on the left spend less time and money shopping.
The highly successful Giant Super Food Store kiosks, especially the flagship concept store in Camp Hill, Pa., is an excellent example of a project that has followed this advice. The more-than 91,000-square-foot store has 25 kiosks, all situated around the periphery. Customer usage and the number of transactions continues to grow each month.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
Monday, 11 June 2007
The writer is a senior analyst on Forrester’s Marketing and Strategy team.
Retailers struggle to adapt as the online channel shifts the balance of control into consumers’ hands and increases pressure on stores to deliver superior experiences. Consumers who research products online before buying them offline will influence more than $500 billion of offline sales in 2007.
Now, retail’s newest sales channel, mobile, promises to change the dynamics of shopping yet again.
Over time, mobile will bring three new attributes to the multichannel shopping experience — portability, location awareness and ubiquity — characteristics that bring consumer control to a whole new level.
More than three-quarters of households in the United States (88.4 million), own at least one mobile phone; the average is two per household. As carriers continue to offer low-cost services such as prepaid and family plans and as new entrants target underserved segments, Forrester predicts household penetration in the U.S. will exceed 85 percent by the end of the decade, outstripping the Web.
As U.S. consumers grow comfortable with using mobile devices for activities beyond voice, the mobile channel stands to exert a greater impact on their shopping habits. Although buying products through the mobile phone still is far from becoming mainstream, using the device as a self-service tool to aid in the shopping experience is much more imminent.
As the form of mobile commerce with the lowest consumer risk and greatest value proposition, product search will be the starting point to mobile shopping for most consumers. Mobile applications for search and comparison are emerging to aid shoppers and give them more control at the point of decision. SCANBUY, for example, enables shoppers to compare retail prices with online prices by taking a picture of the barcode or tapping the barcode number into a downloadable mobile application. The application then retrieves prices for the product from online comparison shopping engines.
GPShopper, which has more than 100,000 users through its mobile application, lets consumers search for products at local stores and compare prices and promotions. NearbyNow, another local search-based application, gathers local inventory feeds from mall-based stores; when users search for specific products, the application sends back an SMS detailing which stores carry the product and whether it is in stock.
Mobile-based product search threatens to turn brick-and-mortar stores into showrooms for Web-tailers such as Amazon.com and other lower-priced online pure plays as consumers compare prices while in-store. So not only do retailers have to compete with low-priced online pure plays in the Web channel, now they have to do so within their stores.
Retailers can’t fight consumers who want to compare retail store prices to Web prices; instead, they should give consumers an incentive to identify themselves through their mobile devices when in the store, which will provide an opportunity to target in-store shoppers. This requires store-based technologies such as Bluetooth-enabled kiosks and, eventually, mobile-location-aware services that can engage consumers when they are in the store and help to prevent them from defecting to a competitor.
Local search also takes center stage as on-the-go consumers search for products and where to buy them. This places pressure on retailers to release local store inventory data (when available) to engines such as NearbyNow, Channel Intelligence and ShopLocal, and to begin buying keywords on local search engines and general search engines.
There is no rest for the weary retailer as consumers increasingly connect themselves to new channels and to each other, arming themselves with information to make smarter decisions and take control over a process that traditionally has given retailers the upper hand. Retailers that want to succeed in this new world are given little choice but to engage with consumers on their terms and use technologies of their own to grant them entrance into consumers’ connected lives.
Tuesday, 30 January 2007
Over the past 18 months the vending kiosk has become a hit. Unlike its information-terminal cousins, these kiosks combine a user interface with robotics to deliver physical products. Let’s take a look at two such systems.
First on my list is the Zoom Shop from San Francisco-based Zoom Systems. Last October the company raised an additional $35 million to fund its push to automated retail leadership. If you have yet to see a Zoom Shop, you’re in for a treat. These things look like a snack vending machine on steroids. But instead of Doritos and gum, these kiosks move high-end products via a touchscreen interface and the swipe of a credit card, with a portion of the revenues going to the location owner.
As part of my research for this column I checked out a Zoom Shop located in a nearby Macy’s department store. Macy’s, which you may not think of as a tech-forward retail environment, has received a boost from the Zoom Shop. The ideally situated vending kiosk, tall in stature and wide in product, offered various gizmos, including iPods and related accessories. What a great way for the retailer to be associated with the hottest electronics without having to invest in a specialized gadget department.
Now, purchasing something like a $300 iPod from a vending machine might take a little getting used to, but the success of Zoom Shop tells us that consumers just might be ready for high-end, sophisticated vending. It is estimated that as many as 300 Zoom Shops are installed. It’s like retail-in-a-box technology and a new take on the old and proven vending machine business model — though I doubt you’ll see objects larger than what can fit in your hand anytime soon.
Second on my list is redbox, a renter of DVD’s through its network of about 1,800 automated vending kiosks. The company started testing the terminals in Denver back in 2004. I was fortunate to have the pursuant wide-scale deployment to McDonald’s restaurants happen in my backyard here in Minneapolis. I’ve since seen redbox show up in locations such as grocery stores.
The touchscreen user interface provides a selection of current or popular movie titles. With the swipe of a credit card, the machine dispenses the DVD of your choosing, which can be returned to any redbox location after viewing. Each kiosk holds more than 500 DVDs. The company also released an online rental program that works with the kiosks.
redbox’s business model, although simple, has turned the movie rental industry on its head. Most of us were used to renting at Blockbuster, Hollywood Video or even the neighborhood mom-and-pop video rental store for about $4.25, and others had dabbled with subscriptions to Netflix for $19.95 a month. redbox’s pricing changed everything. Now, at the redbox terminal, you can rent movies for $1 per night.
If you ask really nicely, I can hook you up with a copy of a study I sponsored on redbox kiosks. Sixty-six percent of users stated price as their primary reason for choosing redbox, with convenience coming in at 36 percent. An impulse to rent or selection had almost no noticeable impact, which tells me that users found value combined with accessibility as a major purchasing factor.
Though redbox cannibalizes sales from traditional movie rental stores, it stands on its own in terms of price over income. From Dec. 2005 to Nov. 2006 more than 15 million DVDs were rented from more than 800 redbox-equipped McDonald’s stores. Further, redbox-equipped McDonald’s locations sold 5 percent more food and drink than non-equipped locations.
Vending kiosks are taking off. Whether the product is $300 or $1 per night, these kiosks have proven their ability to succeed. Expect to see vending kiosks used in new and increasingly creative ways in the near future.
Tuesday, 19 December 2006
I just did something that never fails to make shopkeepers happy: I bought something.
This particular purchase was a video game console. But the fact of what it is and who bought it is only tangential to the real story here. The real story is about the point-of-decision being the only place a company can effectively reach today’s younger buyers who, despite their affinity for online buying, nonetheless are part of the more than 90 percent of customers who buy in the store.
The protagonist (yeah, me) is a representative of a demographic increasingly distanced from traditional media. In my case, I watch TV shows only on DVD and don’t have cable, except cable Internet. I get all my daily news from the Web. I don’t look at any kind of flyer that comes wrapped in a rubber band and, in fact, rarely check my mail because all my important correspondence comes to my inbox.
I’ve also learned the hard way, many times, never to trust a kid in a golf shirt when it comes to buying anything worthwhile. Ever.
On the Internet is where most of this story unfolds — all but the crucial finale. I spent evenings and weekends Googling tech specs and product reviews for months. Then I set about playing with kiosks as I visited retailers.
I walked right by the computer aisle. Though I originally wanted a new computer, a ton of online research changed my mind. To get what I wanted in a gaming PC, I would have to spend disproportionately more money than I would on a game console. What’s more, there was no kiosk or similar in-store demonstration method to help a gaming PC make its case for value.
The Wii demo kiosk actually turned me against buying a Wii. I was leaning heavily toward a Wii because its motion-sensing controller involves a modicum of moving around instead of sitting still while I play. But I couldn’t try the controller for myself. The kiosk just ran a static video of a school marm, hands in front of her, calmly explaining the benefits of a Wii while it cut back and forth to faceless graphical bubble men playing tennis.
I’m not paying $250 for mom-friendly Pong with pixel shading. So that narrowed it down to an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3.
The PS3 was soon ruled out by the New York Times, which ran a scathing review (I read it online) addressing exactly how un-fun the PS3 is for a variety of reasons that should’ve been simple for Sony to prevent.
At this point, with two consoles out of the running, I was beginning to think again about gaming PCs—until I came to the Xbox 360 kiosk at a Best Buy.
In case you ever wonder, having a screen high atop a kiosk really does work. At first I didn’t even play the demo. I watched the screen while a teenage girl and her little brother played “Madden ’07.” When they stepped off, I started thumbing through the menus and played a few demos while a middle-aged woman stood behind me and watched the screen just as I had.
And that did it. The look and feel of the controller, the console, the kiosk and the graphical user interface created an experience which met or exceeded all my expectations. Also, the environment was right. The kiosk caught me in a happy mood at Christmastime. And it caught me in an emotive atmosphere, surrounded by tons of others who also like spending money at Christmas. Even better, nobody was standing there trying to sell me something.
In all, it was a textbook example of a retail store utilizing self-service in an energized environment to impact a hard-to-reach consumer at the point-of-decision. But it leaves one crucial question unanswered: Which first-person shooter should I buy?
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.
Tuesday, 21 November 2006
Digital signage is weighing into the self-service and kiosk industry more deeply every day. Many semi-custom kiosk manufacturers are selling sleek new units with digital signs mounted on top. Meanwhile, companies like Nanonation brew flashy new iterations of digital signage that can respond to customers’ product browsing via RFID monitoring, or change content in response to text messages.
Last week, I received a crash course in digital signage, at the second “Building Your Successful Digital Signage Business” conference in Chicago. As conferences go, it’s not huge. It’s also not cheap, costing attendees about $1,500 for two days worth of in-depth of lectures. But it’s worth it, especially to someone in the kiosk industry wanting to learn about digital signage.
Lesson #1: It’s not the kiosk industry. I attended the conference with my kiosk industry perspective in tow, thinking “Retailers use digital signs to sell more stuff, as they use kiosks.” This is true, but it’s only a small part of the story. The missing link in my knowledge was that the sign content is often outsourced to third-party networks, who then sell space to advertisers, often the manufacturers whose goods reside on the shelves. And when it’s not outsourced, stores usually sell advertising on proprietary networks. Somewhere in this mix, co-op dollars may or may not fit, depending on the arrangement. These dynamics makes the digital sign industry a lot less like something a retailer does, and a lot more like something television executives do.
Lesson #2: Kiosks and digital signs communicate in two completely different ways. I’ve often thought of a touchscreen in its down time as functioning exactly like a digital sign. It runs an in-store marketing message which is normally either an advertisement or call to action for the kiosk. The first person I met at the conference was the first person to correct my notion. CAP Ventures digital signage analyst Norman McLeod told me that the difference between a kiosk and a digital sign is that a kiosk pulls in an individual, whereas a digital sign reaches out to a crowd. I thought about this for a few days and realized that I can’t recall the message on any Target kiosk, though I pass by their gift registries and photo kiosks frequently, but I can perfectly envision the Dell digital signs in my local mall.
Lesson #3: Concepts from Internet marketing are transferring directly to digital signage. For example, what pay-per-click advertising is to the Internet, pay-per-text advertising is becoming to digital signage. Correlating with this is the industry’s struggle for analytics, a familiar story to many in the kiosk or online marketing industries. Digital sign networks and manufacturers are struggling to prove the value of the signs’ audiences in a commonly understood measurement – the digital sign equivalent of unique visitors or impressions.
Lesson #4: Digital signs don’t just exist in stores. This doesn’t seem like the most profound observation, given the myriad digital signs seen in places like Times Square, but it makes a difference to those in the industry, particularly when content developed for one often needs to be developed for all. If stretching content from a 17-inch monitor to a 42-inch display seems like a jump, consider that some companies now need it blown up for a 12-foot wide billboard.
The best thing to observe at this conference had little to do with the industry and more to do with the people in it. Attendees were focused and energized. Presenters were very up-front with their company’s stories and methods. In all, it was an open exchange of information among people who believe strongly in a growing industry. It will be exciting to watch them succeed.
Monday, 06 November 2006
The retail market is changing rapidly, servicing a new breed of consumers who are increasingly knowledgeable and savvy. With Web-enabled cell phones, iPods, BlackBerries, and portable computers, consumers can access information at their convenience.
Armed with information on prices, features, services and consumer ratings, these customers can be a very tough crowd for retailers to please. Businesses must find ways to create shopping experiences that are interesting and relevant to not only a specific customer’s needs, but for that customer’s needs during a particular shopping trip. In today's environment, it takes strong differentiation and a compelling value proposition to compete for these consumers’ wallet share.
Advances in kiosk technology offer a wide range of opportunities to satisfy this new age of consumers. Powerful, compact kiosk units that are cost effective and can be placed almost anywhere have come into their own, offering both retailers and other businesses the opportunity to provide a technologically satisfying experience to their customers. Kiosks are now appearing in unexpected places – in store aisles for guided selling and gift registry, in hotels for self check-in, as music preview and download devices, in quick service restaurants – all of which can fundamentally improve the consumer experience.
How about employees? Offering self-service for employees is an option that more and more businesses are pursuing. In fact, many businesses are now finding that the best way to service their fickle and demanding customers is to offer their employees kiosk solutions. Providing "self-service" solutions for their employees opens up virtually limitless possibilities to improve training, boost productivity and enhance service.
Kiosk technology is helping one popular restaurant chain improve the efficiency of meal preparation and food order delivery. Fuddruckers, one of the first known restaurant chains to use interactive kiosks in its kitchens, now uses kiosks to provide its general managers and cooks with easy access to recipes to help reduce training time and deliver orders faster and more efficiently. By replacing paper-based procedure and recipe manuals, these kiosks allow the restaurant chain to provide accurate and up-to-date food preparation instructions quickly and easily. A process that was cumbersome and used to take weeks to implement can now be done simply by sending online updates to the kiosks.
Employee turnover has always been a concern for retailers and businesses, with some establishments experiencing a rate of greater than 100 percent. How do you keep such a changing workforce well-informed on the products, accessories and services that you carry? A large office supply chain has piloted a kiosk solution that allows employees to look up information about their complex inventory while servicing a customer. They can provide the customer with real-time information about an item, as well as recommend accessory sales. The results of the pilot showed several important benefits: improved employee satisfaction with their job responsibilities, an increase in revenue from accessory sales, and more than 30 percent decline in returned goods.
These compact, portable kiosks can also be used to help ensure employees understand their benefits, company policies, and general HR information. A growing number of companies are piloting these types of applications to help educate their employees easily and quickly.
Advances in kiosk technology, and a growing number of application solutions aimed at the employee, can provide businesses with a cost effective way to differentiate and significantly improve customer service. Kiosks offer businesses opportunities to help train, inform, educate and boost the productivity of their employees. Results can be well worth the investment, by gaining knowledgeable, motivated employees who can serve customers better.
So next time you hear the term self-service solutions, remember that self-service solutions can be a viable option for employees as well as for customers. Providing a simple, unique, differentiated experience for your employees can result in enhanced customer satisfaction, higher revenue and improved operating costs. It’s hard to find fault in that equation.
Norma Wolcott is a kiosk business executive for IBM Corporation
Monday, 09 October 2006
One of the questions that frequently floats about our newsroom revolves around the user-friendliness of the Internet, and in particular, online ordering. We editors like to debate whether the Internet is a friend of the kiosk, or a bitter self-service enemy.
There are two perspectives on this.
One side goes like this: The Internet competes with kiosks because people won’t go to the store to buy what they can have delivered to their homes.
That theory ultimately portrays consumers as a group who, by and large, would prefer to do product research and purchasing from home, using databases to compare specs, research product reviews, select a vendors and pay, all from the comforts of home.
The other side goes like this: The Internet compliments kiosks, but sells in a different way.
Subscribers to the latter school of thought, of which I am one, see the Internet as a different marketing tool meant to accomplish a similar task. I’m dubious on the notion that many people within convenient driving distance to a large retailer buy either small or large purchases online.
For small purchase like a DVD, CD or video game, there’s no reason to wait three days for it to arrive in the mail when a 10-minute trip yields instant gratification. For a large purchase, like a big-screen TV, most people want to see it before carting it off.
My observations from here on are based on anecdotal evidence, and I would welcome any response based on demonstrable hard data.
Consumers like to do research online, to find the best intersections of price and quality, whether they’re making big purchases or long-term obligations – like buying new washers or cell phones. They probably notice other things, too, like which stores have the best selection and, in general, the best prices. Then they go visit the vendors that seem to have the best products that offer the best deals.
Then they enter the store, and this is where the kiosks take over. It might be that they see a comparable model sitting next to the TV they priced online and want more information. So lacking their home computers, they turn to the info kiosk, which also is trying to sell them all the wiring they need.
Or, better still, while in the store, these shoppers encounter kiosks and digital signs marketing something they didn’t even think they needed. The Xbox 360 comes to mind, given its branded kiosks that flex their graphical muscles as would-be buyers walk by. Wouldn’t that make a nice addition to the big screen TV?
What I do think people buy online is middle-of-the-road stuff: $100 items like dorm room refrigerators and 17-inch CRT television sets. Many people wouldn’t drop $100 on an impulse buy — there’s enough potential wiggle room in the price that it could be a better buy, even with shipping costs. Also, quality’s not as important as price for a low-end durable good, and that relieves the necessity to see it first. A $100 stereo is a $100 stereo, plus or minus a few watts.
Another factor to consider is that shopping is a kind of entertainment. People shop with friends or kill time at stores before dinner and a movie. Given the savings rate in the United States, which is negative, I would contend that it’s more difficult to get consumers to stay home than it is to get them into stores.
There is one more school of thought that opposes mine. It says “Eventually, the Internet will come to the PDA or cell phone inside the store, and eliminate the need for kiosks.”
To me, that is like saying signs become obsolete when greeters pass out coupons. Again, it’s a different method of marketing. An application that customers can access via PDA in-store is relatively passive compared to a kiosk/digital sign combo that actively markets items in the aisles.
So, what do you think? Am I completely off base? Are Internet and kiosk channels constantly working at cross purposes? Is it silly to think most consumers wouldn’t buy their largest or smallest purchases online? Let me know at . Share something good and your response might run here.
Tuesday, 22 August 2006
"Baby boomers are all about being in control. This generation wants to control everything, from the food to the words to the order of the service. And this is one area where consumers feel out of control."
Those of us in the self-service industry have heard and read quotes like this several times: consumers want more control over transactions. It's the key principle that drives our industry. So here's a shock, this quote isn't about retail service — it's a quote in a recent New York Times from funeral concierge Mark Duffey, describing consumers' choices to plan their own funerals.
It reads exactly like the case for deploying an ordering kiosk: The consumer wants more control. So where are all the casket kiosks?
Funerals are a $14 billion annual industry, with a guaranteed two million customers per year. Funerals cost $6,000 on average, and often more than $10,000. It's a healthy industry, with nothing but growth on the horizon.
Before accusing me of cold-hearted casket kiosk peddling, this is far from unprecedented. Costco deployed casket kiosks two years ago. According to author John Dicker in "The United States of Wal-Mart," the discount giant also is kicking around the idea of casket sales. Web sites are selling caskets — and suggesting upsells and cross-sells. When users order an Irish Tribute casket from CasketXpress.com, the site entices them to pick up a Claddagh Candle, Irish flag and "Dreams of Ireland" framed poem for the casket top. These kind of automatic cross-sells and upsells are what good transactional kiosks do.
And this alleviates another problem: the inherent non-compete atmosphere of a funeral home. Instead of taking one funeral director's (read: one salesman's) advice at a very emotional time, kiosks simplify comparison shopping and can help a family find a better opportunity when money will likely be an enormous concern.
If all this is too impersonal, add on a "have the planner contact me" button and the consumers get the human touch, while the vendors get sales leads.
The one big problem I see is where to put them.
Funeral homes might like kiosks for the same reasons most retailers do. It would allow them to offer more inventory with less showroom space. But such traditional, high-touch businesses are unlikely to want such non-traditional devices. Besides, the casket companies with which morticians have long-standing relationships might get testy about sharing the kiosk with competitors that couldn't fit in the room before.
Then there's the Costco model, but I'm not sure how effective it has been and Costco wouldn't tell me. I imagine they might keep their casket sales a little under the radar, given the business's unsettling nature. And it's hard for me to imagine picking up caskets, coffee and copy paper in one trip.
So that leads me to this: Progressive middle- and high-end consumers like buying all kinds of things in posh little boutiques these days. So why not set up comfortable lounge-style shops with overstuffed chairs and free lattes in the same strip malls where the Mac stores and Paneras go?
Smartly-clad greeters can hand customers (we'll call this demographic the 'to-be-deceased') tablet PCs with kiosk software on which they can browse while they curl up in the cushions. If they have a question, they can ask the greeters. If they want to be left alone, they can retreat to more private areas of the store, or draw curtains at tables.
Call me crazy, but the same desire for control that drives all transactional kiosks exists in the funeral industry. And the demand will never falter. Critics laugh at all great ideas, and all of those critics eventually need caskets.
Monday, 07 August 2006
Another columnist kindly responded to my last question: Why don’t we convert price checkers into self-checkout terminals in store aisles? Read his answer in a moment. First, read this month’s question.
For years we’ve been told that RFID, also known as radio frequency identification, is about to permeate the market. But is RFID ready for widespread deployment? While a lot of optimism surrounds the technology, there are some concerns.
At a recent security conference in Las Vegas, a graduate student demonstrated the ability to steal data from RFID tags that companies have said could only be cracked by their proprietary readers. The researcher, Melanie Rieback of Vrije University in The Netherlands, and her helpers promised to make public the schematic and computer code for building a portable device that reads RFID codes and tags.
She calls it the RFID Guardian, on the premise that a person can use it to monitor the RFID chips carried on his or her person – in passports and the like. Another way to consider it might be as the RFID Assailant, if one uses it to snag data from other people’s RFID chips.
Rieback is far from the first scholar to crack a code. When a team of researchers cracked the DES code used to encrypt ATM data, they spent almost $250,000 and three days computing 88 billion different code combinations needed to crack the single encryption standard– a much grander undertaking than the handheld box Rieback’s team can use to scan RFID chips without the owners’ consent. (Triple DES is the remedy.)
Rieback also takes credit for writing the first RFID virus: a code that when written onto an RFID tag can make its way through middleware and infect a database. Since the same database is accessed when making and reading tags, all new tags would contain the infected code, if the database is breached.
A vice president for one of the world’s biggest RFID innovators told me that item-by-item RFID tracking is not likely to be adopted by retailers because it’s too expensive.
Retailers frequently talk about the 5-cent RFID tag: Once RFID tags cost a nickel each, it could be feasible to put them on everything, just like price tags. For now, however, retailers still quibble over the price.
So, I ask you to tell me – is RFID ready for widespread deployment? E-mail me your answer: .
The answer to last month’s question.
Wirespring columnist Bill Gerba kindly used his column to respond to mine last month:
“…for any kind of in-the-aisle checkout system. Small specialty retailers wouldn't seem to need the extra checkout locations, and department stores already use scattered checkout stations (or sales reps) as a means to scan and de-badge purchased merchandise. So, limiting the argument to just grocers and the big-box guys, there would appear to be (at least) three critical factors that must be addressed before in-the-aisle checkout could ever take off...”
To read his reasoning, click here.
Monday, 17 July 2006
People just prefer gifts from the heart. What better way to do this than personalize their memories and make gifts of them? Photo kiosks are now engineered to print everything from regular greeting cards to calendars and mugs.
The demand for these products grew as cameras (and camera-phones) became one of the fastest-selling consumer electronic devices ever, partly due to affordability and the proliferation of secondary industries like digital printing at retail and affordable home photo printers. Prices drop with each new model, paving the way for most households to own at least one digital camera. Upping the ante, camera manufacturers look to out-do each other not only on price, but on form and function as well, making the digital camera highly-appealing to consumers.
The ubiquity of digital cameras in almost every household and the rapid drop in flash memory dollars-per-byte mean that there is an amazing amount of pictures, and now video, taken at all sorts of events like weddings, graduations, birthdays and vacations.
Viewing JPEGs off of your PhotoCD and hitting the disc player’s ‘Next Track’ button repeatedly for about 30 photos may be tolerable, but beyond about 50 photos, you start to wonder if there is a better way to relive your Grand Canyon adventure.
Video, even the most amateurish homemade ones, has the ability to capture the ambience and excitement at any given event in a very different way from photos; from the moment of the kiss at the wedding, to a baby blowing out his birthday candles.
Added to this, the combination of abundant storage and the ability to “shoot and check” has created a generation of trigger-happy users who snap away and end up with hundreds of pictures at a single event, many of which may be pretty similar. We are now also observing, in that mix, a good measure of short video clips too. Many of these memories are precious and will end up being printed on a whole array of media. What’s sad is that these precious memories are often locked away after printing, or worse, incarcerated to a PhotoCD, never to see the light of day, nor shared and enjoyed.
Retailers and photo kiosk manufacturers are constantly finding ways to increase their revenue per square feet and per kiosk. Printing on T-shirts, mugs, calendars, greeting cards and other premium products and so on are all fine, but they all seem to lack some element of fun and interactivity. Photo Kiosk offerings must expand and video presents just such an opportunity
Kiosk users demand good quality prints, intuitive user interfaces and new innovative products that meet their evolving needs. In the younger demographics, we see video creation and public sharing taking off, in the likes of Revver and YouTube. However, the emotional satisfaction of sharing precious memories with loved ones in private will always be treasured, and video will increasingly be a medium of consideration as a complement to, not replacement of, photos. As people go to their neighborhood kiosks to process their photos, they are going to demand that the same kiosks be able to make something of their huge albums and also handle their videos too.
We are not spelling out the doom of photo printing. Users will always want to print some of their favorite pictures, but they will also want to archive all of the shots that they do not print for posterity. Burning these hundreds of pictures to a CD/DVD is a basic option, but to survive in an increasingly competitive photo kiosk space, kiosk operators need to provide greater value-add to increase margins. With the right choice of templates and music, these videos and pictures can be stitched into professionally created music videos. Once you have engaging user generated content, that’s when revenue generation will begin.
With video content, users can order a DVD to be burned, upload the video to a portal to be shared via the Internet, where their friends can place an online order for the same DVD and collect them in their neighborhood drugstore. Users can also opt to have this video saved in a more compressed format to be Bluetooth-loaded onto their mobiles, or PSP, or iPod video. This means that a single set of pictures and/or video can generate multiple products which can be ordered by more than one client in multiple locations, increasing throughput and of course, ROI.
We envisage more synergy between photo kiosks, the Internet and social networking sites. We strongly believe for the next few years, the inflexion point for photo kiosks’ growth will come from the increased demand for video solutions. Granted, there will be more photos taken and more prints ordered at retail kiosks, but margins for these products will be under a lot of pressure.
With the popularity of consumer portable video storage and playback devices, today, there are many places where users will want to fill up with their personal videos, so they can whip out that screen from their breast pocket to show a colleague a video of their baby’s first steps. We think the visionary kiosk maker will quickly jump in to be the centre of that ecosystem: take the photos and videos from users and create engaging content out of them, then repurpose it for the myriad devices where they can then be shared.
These value-added capabilities can benefit both the corner photo finishing shop and the large chain drugstores as they each fulfill this need on different scales and reach.
As a co-founder and chief opportunities officer of muvee, Terence See helped build muvee autoProducer, the world's first automatic video editing software. Terence is also instrumental in putting muvee's products on the world map, and negotiates licensing deals with other players in the consumer electronics space. In 2000, he became the 25th Singaporean to complete the grueling 226km Ironman in Langkawi.
Monday, 10 July 2006
In last month’s column, I asked why MP3 burning and ring tone download kiosks caught on in German McDonald’s, but not the United States. Murray Macdonald, the president and chief technology officer of Storefront.com, the company that created the software in those kiosks, explained his reasoning. We'll get to that in a moment.
But first, I pose another question.
Why don’t retail stores deploy systems in the aisles? Many of them, Target for example, have info kiosks deployed. Those units, already having a barcode scanner and sitting atop the same inventory database as the POS system, are just a card reader away from becoming little cashless sales devices. Handheld Products and VeriFone both now offer integrated mini-kiosks that can do this, but it’s been possible through other means for years. Corporate Safe Specialists manufactures a small-footprint kiosk just for this purpose, that unit includes cash acceptance.
I can think of two reasons why retailers might not be doing this: either they’re worried about security, or they think adding additional hardware, like card swipes and receipt printers, would be cumbersome compared to the savings realized by getting customers out of the store faster. What do you think?
The answer to last month’s question, “Why are MP3 and ringtone kiosks popular at German McDonald’s, when their U.S. deployment failed?”
In Germany, 24 separate order stations are built into the restaurant's tables and walls. They are located throughout the eating area making them almost impossible to avoid. Even patrons who have no intention of using the kiosks end up sitting within arms-reach while eating their meal. With the touch-screen devices located within such easy reach, they can't help but play with them. In such an environment, user engagement is a no-brainer. Once engaged, users create their order, then receive a printed ticket instructing them to proceed to one of the three nearby production stations to make an automated cash or credit card payment, and then collect their products.
For the U.S. pilot in Oakbrook, Ill., two large traditional free-standing kiosks were located beside the stairs on the main floor, while four futuristic sit-down stations were located upstairs. In both cases, a patron was required to stop at a non-traditional location and actively engage an unfamiliar device. Indeed, it was observed that the vast majority of patrons walked right past the kiosks with a tray of food in their hands, looking for a table. Once fed, most left the location without visiting the kiosks. The systems were largely ignored.
User engagement is critical. The same self-service application that succeeded in one environment failed in another largely due to hardware presentation and placement considerations. A kiosk environment must provide a practical setting in which patrons can comfortably engage the device. This was achieved at McDonald's in Germany, but not in the U.S.
Some customers are hesitant to engage new devices, and must feel comfortable before they do. As we have seen with photo kiosks, some customers do not want to stand out as the single user of an isolated standalone system, yet most customers will use the same system if multiple stations are available, or better yet, if everyone has one at their table. It would appear that there is a "safety in numbers" herd mentality at play. Once most patrons see others having fun tinkering with their tableside kiosk, they will follow suit.
Quick Service Restaurant patrons are willing to engage media kiosks while eating, but most are unlikely to go out of their way to engage.
Email Murray Macdonald at
Monday, 19 June 2006
Self-service innovation is rapidly growing and changing with no sign of slowing down. Research indicates that customers have moved from acceptance of self-service choices to demand of the technology. Clearly, it is no longer a question of whether to implement the technology, but rather where and how to do so for the most impact on customer service and return on investment (ROI).
It is vital that retailers understand what lies ahead for this ever-evolving technology. Three key areas of innovation are leading the way in the move to a self-everything world: footprint, new technologies and ergonomics.
Space is an important commodity in the world of retail. Fortunately, self-checkout technology is evolving to accommodate smaller footprints. Space-restricted retailers such as convenience stores, drug stores, specialty shops and department stores can now benefit from space-saving versions of self-checkout.
Current, as well as future, adopters of the technology will benefit from smaller self-checkout hardware that frees up more floor space, providing opportunities to offer better customer service and improvements to the bottom line.
Introduction of New Technologies
Radio frequency identification (RFID) and other emerging technologies have launched a new wave of possibilities for self-service solutions. Examples include:
- Enhanced payment options, including contactless (RFID-enabled) payment and fingerprint recognition, provide consumers and retailers with added convenience and efficiency
- Integrated Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) deactivation antennas increase customer convenience by deactivating EAS tags while ensuring security for store owners
- Multiple language capabilities break down language barriers and open the world of self-checkout to customers across a spectrum of cultures
Looking to the future, RFID readers may someday be integrated with self-checkout, as well as assisted-service checkout, to read RFID tags on individual merchandise packages. Germany’s METRO Group has installed self-checkout with an RFID reader in its RFID Innovation Center. In this METRO Group demonstration, the self-checkout deactivates the merchandise security function of the RFID tag on selected merchandise during the scanning process, enabling customers to exit the store without triggering a security alarm.
With consumer acceptance no longer a barrier, technology providers and retailers are focusing more attention on improving the usability of self-checkout solutions. Look for continuing enhancements around solution design and management, to include making the user interface even faster and easier to use. Screens will provide more advanced functionality and richer multi-media content with “multi-pathing” – a feature allowing shoppers to conduct transactions in the personalized way that seems most logical to them. Hardware design will continue to provide incremental improvements to the transaction “flow” while better assisting those with disabilities.
Where is Your Self-Checkout Headed?
It’s clear that self-checkout technology is rapidly growing and evolving. For retailers who wish to stay ahead of the competition, the key to successful implementation depends on an experienced, yet innovative technology partner who knows the retail industry inside and out.
Mike Webster is vice president and general manager for NCR Self-Service. He leads all aspects of the self-service business for NCR’s Retail Solutions Division, including the NCR FastLane self-checkout and NCR EasyPoint kiosk lines, as well as airport self-check-in and other travel industry solutions from Kinetics, a subsidiary of NCR, and medical self-service solutions from Galvanon, an NCR company.
Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Editors usually wait until the end of the year to pick favorites, but I've seen so many fascinating self-service innovations in my recent travels, I’d like to discuss some of the most interesting solutions to surface so far in 2006.
Government: Pay-Ease is continually upgrading its ACM (automated commerce machine) to include more new features. They’ve found a healthy market for the machines in government applications, like paying parking tickets and printing parking permits. They’ve also been testing check cashing applications. Soon, rumor has it, they’ll find another healthy market for card-printing on-demand – and it’s not the flooded loyalty card market that similar machines keep splitting. Find more information at www.pay-ease.com.
Healthcare: Dr. Jack Goldstein in Pawtucket, R.I. developed AutomationMed, a medical tracking system that’s deployed not only in the lobby of his clinic, where patients use it, but in the examination rooms as well. Goldstein can input medical data as he diagnoses patients. Over time, it tracks outcomes data to correlate which treatments are most effective for which problems. The program’s question fields can be swapped around for other medical specialists. The data is stored in universally recognizable formats, designed to be mined for medical research. What’s more: a doctor can cross-reference his accounting databases to see which treatments are most profitable. The software can be purchased at www.automationmed.com and deployed on a kiosk or waiting room computer.
Retail: The LiveSupport customer service software by Experticity, which Microsoft included at their Retail Systems booth in May is revolutionary for stores that want to offer sterling information without losing the personal touch. Meanwhile, Clarience 1:1 by Retaligent Solutions Inc., which I first saw at the NRF show in New York and, more recently, at Retail Systems in a newly upgraded form, is the end-to-end solution of choice for retailers needing to offer human service with high-tech empowerment.
Networking: Ventus Networks’ secure cellular financial network is a novel system. The company’s engineers have devised a way to keep their virtual private network from dropping off of the cellular system even as the signal gets rotated from tower to tower. Ventus remotely manages the ATMs on the network from their corporate headquarters in Connecticut. From there, technicians can monitor a number of key indicators from up-time to signal strength. The most recent upgrade of their cellular router can accept any kind of cellular network chip.
Payment: The Verifone MX870 mini-kiosk is an upgrade to the typical price checking kiosk which customers are used to seeing (or, often, not seeing, due to their size). The MX870 solves much of the invisibility problem many mini-kiosks suffer by offering sound and full-color video. It also offers Triple DES secure payment and signature capture capabilities.
These are just a few of many great self-service solutions, and the rest of the year will certainly yield many more.
Monday, 24 April 2006
Many grocery chains are deploying self-service kiosks throughout their stores. But are the myriad applications on these kiosks really delivering value to customers and retailers?
For the past several years, a number of solution providers and grocery retailers have experimented with kiosk self-service. And the most important information obtained from these experiments is customer response. Customers like some applications and dislike others.
Two applications in-particular – deli self-ordering and recipe or meal solution recommendations - stand out for the value and convenience they provide the customer and the ROI they deliver to the retailer. They should, therefore, take precedence – not be buried beneath other, less-profitable applications.
With deli kiosks, a customer places an order, continues shopping, and later swings by to pick up the finished order — a very productive and efficient process. But it’s also important that the application keep the customer returning to the store.
An ideal deli self-order application features all the content and bells and whistles that make it the most convenient and productive option for the customer.
Those features include:
- Speed and ease of use
- Up-to-date content, especially for pricing and inventory status
- Order history that shows frequently ordered items
- The up-sell and cross-sell of other products and services
- Ability to use a loyalty card or PIN to view buying history and/or receive special offers
- Ability to shop by dietary needs, such as low-sodium, gluten-free and low-carb
- Ability to order all deli items, not just meats and cheeses, for instance
Finally, the deli application should have robust admin/maintenance capabilities, and it should be tightly integrated with the deli’s scale-management system.
Recipe recommendations help busy customers get quick suggestions for meals and are extremely well used. An ideal software solution, for example, would allow a customer to scan a package of ground beef and quickly receive several recipes for beef. The customer then selects and prints one or more of the recipes, which includes an ingredients list.
Like the deli application, the recipe application must be robust enough to keep customers coming back.
Those two applications are the “killer apps” for self-service in the grocery store. And while the self-ordering model also could be deployed in other grocery departments, such as bakery, meat or seafood, self-service in the deli makes the most sense, because it provides returns and convenience for the retailer and customer.
No other self-service application deployed in grocery stores has equal potential for the high utilization rates and ROI that the deli and recipe applications have.
How does a retailer formulate strategies for deploying self-service kiosk applications? Start small, with two to four kiosks for deli self-ordering, recipes and, perhaps, bakery self-ordering.
A good approach is to front the applications with a common custom-branded portal, or user interface, that facilitates maintaining a consistent look-and-feel.
Another point: Try leveraging any existing Web or e-commerce presence. That can be as sophisticated as establishing multi-channel transactions that function across both the Web and kiosk or as simple as making the two platforms merely look similar.
Self-service is about convenience, speed of use and productivity. Retailers should be wary of overloading the kiosks with too many applications and essentially overwhelming customers with too many options. This will confuse and frustrate the customer and leave a bad impression of self-service. A customer who is frustrated is not likely to return to that kiosk, or worse, to that store. Essentially, retailers should start with proven self-service applications and build from there, letting customers dictate which self-service options should be added.
Monday, 10 April 2006
The 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 .
Saturday, 11 March 2006
When J.C. Penney decided to reinvigorate its brand, it harnessed kiosk technology and a trendy marketing strategy to do it. The company is renting 1 Times Square, the historic former New York Times building and perennial site of New York’s New Year’s bash, and installed a “pop-up” store that opened on March 3 and will close on March 26.
The store inhabits 15,000 square feet on the three lower floors and employs two 18-foot tall ads on the side of the building. Inside, there are 22 kiosks, 18 digital signs and 96 mannequins. USA Today described entering the store as like walking into a commercial.
It’s a new jingle for a company that, after losing $928 million in 2003, seemed to be singing its swan song.
Individual pieces of merchandise are displayed as if in a museum. Gone are the classic clothing racks of yore. To make a purchase, a customer uses a kiosk and the goods are shipped from off-site to his or her home.
J.C. Penney’s pop-up store sits just a couple blocks away from the Virgin Megastore, another landmark self-service deployment, with 150 self-service listening stations.
It’s no coincidence that enormous companies are deploying kiosks to create next-generation customer experiences in a crossroads of American commerce. Likewise, it’s no coincidence that enormous companies are banking on self-service products. At the recent National Retail Federation’s “Big Show” in New York City, NCR’s Nelson Gomez, vice president of self-service solutions for North America, said self-service will be NCR’s double digit growth vehicle for 2006.
Gomez’ estimation isn’t solitary. Analysts predict nine percent growth in the self-service industry this year. System developers expect a boom year. Microsoft, Symbol, IBM, Wincor Nixdorf and other large cap multinationals are deploying more and more self-service equipment and software than ever.
And it’s all because of retailers like J.C. Penney cutting costs, enhancing their brand and improving customer service through self-service.