Blog: Ron Bowers 

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

Tuesday, 24 July 2012
Given the increased importance of mobile as a shopping tool, and as our “concierge” for other essential tasks, it is natural to ask what this trend means for the future of traditional kiosks. Some have posed the question in headline-grabbing fashion.
It is a very human tendency to evaluate new technologies in a win/lose, either/or fashion given the pace of change. When the Digital Screenmedia Association issued its report Self-Service Future Trends 2011 almost a year ago, some industry watchers speculated on the demise of the kiosk with the ascendancy of mobile capabilities. At the time, I pegged the use of kiosks and mobile in combination as an adroit maneuver that could pay off for deployers and provide a better experience for consumers. Over the last year, I’ve seen plenty of evidence to back that up.
In the same way industries are aiming toward having all channels working together seamlessly, all forms of media need to work together to support marketing objectives. Kiosks can still stand alone, but mobile can point the consumer toward a kiosk, enhance the kiosk experience, and add portability to the concept.
Using Mobile to Point to the Kiosk
Mobile tactics can be used to attract users to a kiosk. In-store rewards program Shopkick allows shoppers to accumulate points via an application running on their phones. Shoppers can get points just for visiting different sites within a store and scanning items. With mobile check-in applications like Shopkick, a bar code can be used to increase awareness and trial of a kiosk.
Though in its infancy, the technology exists in various forms to send location-based messages to draw shoppers to a specific point in the store. That location doesn’t have to be a product; it can be an interactive solution.
Enhancing the Kiosk Experience
The proliferation of mobile usage makes the channel impossible to ignore. The development of customer-facing kiosk applications should increasingly call for consideration of a mobile strategy. Two industries where we see mobile and kiosks complementing each other are grocery and hospitality. Some grocery chains, for example, are integrating loyalty information and coupons that can be accessed on kiosks or mobile phones by allowing customers to use their mobile phone number as their loyalty number. The hospitality industry is exploring the use of kiosks for check-in and allowing guests to begin a process on their phones that culminates at the kiosk.
Making the Kiosk Portable
The consumer’s view of what constitutes self-service has expanded and is driving the solutions that get developed. It now seems intuitive that a wayfinding kiosk emails directions to a user’s smartphone. A health information kiosk enables users to access saved information on their personal account via smartphone. 
Frankly, we need to acknowledge that the definition of kiosk has expanded with the popularity of tablets for retail use. They can be incorporated into countertop units, affixed to walls and shelves, and mounted on tablet PC display stands that add portability. 
Customer-facing technology, whether available on a kiosk or a mobile device ultimately serves the same purpose – to provide information and drive decision-making. We’re much more likely to operate in a world where devices converge than in a single-device ecosystem. The real question is not whether one channel displaces another but how they can come together to meet the expectations of consumers.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 10:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
I feel the need to echo Joe Grove’s recent commentary, Why we’re writing about more than kiosks. There is a place for the nuts and bolts of kiosk deployment, but the bigger success picture involves the quest to keep shoppers as actively engaged in bricks-and-mortar stores as they are with the online and mobile experience. We are partners in the retailer's battle for relevancy.
At our office last week we listened in on comScore’s report of How Mobile Is Changing the Retail Environment. Their findings give new meaning to the old Yellow Pages slogan, "let your fingers do the walking."
There is a strong and growing appetite for mobile shopping. ComScore reports that two-thirds of smart phone owners have now engaged in some form of mobile shopping. This stat encompasses a broad range of behaviors ranging from socially sharing a product recommendation, to researching prices, to purchasing via a mobile device.
Actual mobile purchasing activity is still low, with 38 percent of smart phone owners having used their phone to buy something, but the potential is huge. Fully 80 percent of respondents said they were likely to use their phone for purchasing in the future. With coming acceptance of NFC and mobile wallet payments, this will bring many into the convenience fold. Admittedly, not all of these purchases will be physical goods, but there will be a growing impact on the shopping experience at retail stores.
The Bizrate Insights/Forrester study from May 2011 further demonstrates that shopping via tablet has to be factored into the mobile equation. Sixty percent of tablet owners used their device to shop in the first half of this year. We can speculate that post-holiday measurement will show growth in tablet usage.
Observers point out that retailers must embrace the mobile shopper with value, convenience, innovation and a shopping experience that is omni-channel. Truly we must embrace all shoppers with this mindset. Already, 36 percent of mobile purchasing takes place in-store.
We are approaching a point where most shoppers will be mobile shoppers or mobile-assisted shoppers, and our solutions need to be convergent. In some cases they need to be literally mobile with tablets on stands or movable touch screens at the shelf.
As Joe Grove stated, "self-service has come to mean far more than a touchscreen in a (stationary) box." Our solutions must be the portal that enables a satisfying, omni-channel experience for the consumer.
Having digested all of the above data, the retailer’s task is still about providing shopping options so customers can accomplish tasks in the most convenient, comfortable and preferable manner. There are far more considerations factored into that equation than ever before. Significantly, the biggest reason smartphone owners give for not purchasing on a mobile device is the limitation of screen size.
Consumers are freely expressing their preferences and it is incumbent upon retailers and their partners to listen. As we seem to be breaking out of a period of somberness, I’d like to think that the ghosts of consumers, past present and future are visiting retailers this holiday season with messages about how they want to shop. We need to work with retailers to deliver the range of superior experiences that their customers seek.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 10:56 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 27 June 2011
Smartphones are making people smarter, and they’re being used less as phones every day. People are using their mobile devices to simplify the tasks of daily life, and smart shopping is high on the list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 10:36 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
One of my first blogs took a realistic glance at the prospect of 2-D bar code adoption in the U.S. In the last few years, brands, publishers and retailers have tested and nibbled around the edges of this technology. There is evidence in a lot of places that key players are now willing to take a bigger bite.
In the recently concluded South by Southwest interactive conference, mobile was at the core of most discussions, and 2D bar codes were employed everywhere from billboards to screens to food wrappers. There was widespread agreement that mobile will be a game changer on many fronts.
It is incumbent upon the kiosk and digital-signage industries to understand how mobile technologies can extend the value of what we design and produce. The 2-D bar code is an evolving tool that we may be called upon to evaluate and integrate.
Mobile bar codes are the "easy button" for connecting to content. They make the static interactive and the tethered mobile. The value for kiosks and digital signage is the ability to take something away from the interaction on your phone. At key points in their educational quest or transaction mobile bar codes give consumers the ability to link to information on the web that can move with them and reconnect them to a brand or retailer later.
As attractive as bar code scanning and instant connectivity appear on the surface, there are challenges with infrastructure, education and execution that we should be conversant about.
Those in the mobile industry like to refer to the complexity of the "ecosystem." This refers to different codes, different readers, and the lack of uniformity among mobile devices.
Laura Marriott, past president of the Mobile Marketing Association, has said, "The majority of the major players in the 2-D barcode ecosystem are committed to working closely with the standards bodies to help overcome the hurdles to broad-scale market development through collaboration." For now, we must go to school on the numerous options available."
In addition to a more uniform infrastructure, there is a need for consumer understanding. We are at the point where publications like USA Today have made mobile bar codes a regular feature; Coach Stores and Macy's have integrated them into their Spring advertising and in-store marketing campaigns; and giants like Google and eBaby are incorporating them into their applications. These bold moves will accelerate awareness.
Getting consumers to understand and try 2-D bar code scanning is one thing, but ensuring a good user experience is key to the success and longevity of a program. A satisfying interaction can increase loyalty or lead to a sale, while an inferior experience can detract from a brand.
Here are some considerations in marketing with 2-D bar codes:
  • Know what kinds of mobile devices your target is using. Knowing whether your target is a smart phone user or a feature phone user may dictate your choice of 2-D bar code.
  • Research what combination of bar code and reader is right for your program. There are many choices of reader applications for open source codes. Providers of proprietary codes couple a bar code with a designated reader.
  • Think beyond the tactic to the quality of content to which you are linking. Is there an adequate payoff for the time it takes to pause and scan?
  • Be certain you explain scanning and what it will link to in the medium that activates the scan. There are many examples of well-communicated instructions that can be viewed on the Internet.
  • Tell consumers where to get a code reader if they don't have one on their phone. Be aware that not every reader application reads every kind of code.
  • Consider giving consumers an alternative means of accessing the content. Some marketers have included access via text messaging or a mobile web page in their media.
As 2D bar codes make their way into the mainstream of retail and self-service experience our industry needs to be prepared with information and insight. We aren't necessarily the players to untangle the infrastructure, but we have a responsibility to strive for a satisfying user experience to the benefit of all involved.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 01:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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