Interactive kiosk solutions have been a part of retail for as long as someone was able to stick a computer in a box. While mobile is definitely a phenomenon in retail, we are far from saturation on kiosks as self service solutions. In fact, there has never been a better time to consider a self service kiosk solution – and those solutions don’t have to be limited to a little square screen on a stick.
The technology options available to power these solutions has improved tremendously and there are an increasingly wide range of form factors, as well as peripherals of all sorts to serve pretty much any market or need imaginable. In fact, I would suggest that the use of the term kiosk is outdated. It refers to that little square screen on a stick or in a box from a decade ago.
The days of a cobwebbed kiosk in the corner are gone, and new technology means a new generation of interaction in sites. Consider technology and societal changes that make these new interactions possible:
Larger format screens – 50 and 60″ LCD devices are now available for the cost of a regular old 15″ solution from a number of years ago. This reduced cost makes it more affordable to implement a kiosk that has some visual appeal, lots of space for visual elements, and more easily blends into the customer experience in the store than the technology of years gone by. Projection options are also finding their way into the mainstream – meaning a whole new opportunity for engagement and new placements of interactive experiences.
Increased Use of Touch – – increased availability of touch interfaces means more people are comfortable with them. If you think back just a few years, there was far less use of touch interfaces. The release of iDevices, touch on Blackberries and various tablets and eReaders means that a comfort level has grown that was not there before. This increases the willingness and comfort of the average consumer to interface with a touch system.
Pervasive Technology – There is now a generation of young adults who have never lived without mobile phones or the internet. Where for many years one saw customers saying they “don’t want to use that thing” or “I want to talk to a person”, there is a whole new generation of shoppers are hungry for different touchpoints and shopping experiences.
What works with interactive kiosk experiences?
With the technology to enable incredible interactive experiences in any place where stores can exist, it is important to consider what experience is being provided. I have seen a number of interactive experiences requested over the years, and there are a few learnings I can pass on.
1. Buy-in – If an interactive experience in a retail setting is going to work, then all stakeholders have to be invested in it. If executives, store management or store staff don’t believe in the solution then it will fail. Any half-hearted solution will not work. It is like any other group initiative. Without the conscious involvement, understanding and enthusiasm from the team, whatever solution you have will not work. It will be doomed from the start.
2. Functionality – The solution has to have a benefit to all who use it. A benefit for the user, the store staff and the business in general. For the customer it could be helping them avoid a line, or get help without having to ask a staff member. For the store staff, it could help them with capacity. For the business, it can keep customers in the store instead of leaving, it could upsell them, it could give them an experience that will keep them as a long term customer.
As an additional detail, my experience has been that transactional systems tend to get more use than informational ones. Where some customers may be interested in reading product information in great details, there is greater usage and more direct measurable benefit to the business when someone wants to buy something and can do so directly on the solution.
If customers can look at product information, that’s great, but if they can buy the product and have it sent to their home, they don’t need to consider a second interaction. They can do it on the spot. Bottom line in my opinion – no ROI – no interactive solution. If it isn’t driving business, it’s taking up space. Don’t implement technology for its own sake.
As a personal aside please don’t waste time with the following:
- e-flyers – I’d like someone to show me how this pays off. Why would I scroll through an e-flyer at a screen in a store? I will do it at home, but that is a different user experience. It is always faster to scan through a paper one in a store, users have no audience waiting to use the unit, and often the paper flyers are sitting in a giant pile right next to the screen.
- games – I’ve never understood why I would want to play a game on a screen in a store or how that would benefit a retailer. I’m also annoying others who may want to use the screen to find a product. Exception – if it’s a contest where I get a discount and it’s quick.
- in store wayfinding – Nobody trusts these in stores anymore. In a small store there is no need for them. In a large store who keeps this updated? Stores change around so much, and I doubt that planograms are updated and automatically interfaced. It can also take longer to scroll through than just walk through the store. Exception 1 – if there is an automated interface to constantly updated planogram system. Exception 2 – if there is a version that works with your mobile device Meijer Findit – maybe. Just put stuff where we can find it.
Based on what I’ve seen, these items are add-ons designed to flesh out a solution, but it never feels useful or natural to me, and drives out more value more than it adds.
3. User Experience – If the customer doesn’t at least find the experience useful, they won’t use the screen again. I’m not a UI designer myself, but self service best practices should be followed that suit the application, and having an experienced consultant design your interface is well worth the investment.
Examples of best practices include using as few screens as possible to get a user to completion of their task, using buttons and text that are easy to see and read, and minimize and simplify data entry unless absolutely necessary – especially duplicate requests. Providing a simple and convenient experience will draw them in and bring them back.
4. Ongoing Support – If the solution isn’t working, it’s not getting used. If it’s not getting used, the benefits above are not being realized. If people see it not getting used, it will be used even less until it is completely ignored, negating the initial intention of having the solution at all. Ongoing support means making sure the hardware is working to it’s full potential. No failed peripherals, or a paper sign tacked on it saying out of order. That can’t happen.
Just as importantly, content must be accurate and updated where relevant. If a kiosk never changes, unless it fulfills a very specific and key function it will die. Retailers would never consider leaving their stores the same through seasons – they are always updated with fresh ideas, programs and products. Interactive solutions must be part of any store updates – the graphics, the videos, the interactions must all keep pace. People are always engaged with new content – we all know this. Make sure the solutions are constantly updated to pull people in.
This is a key element that gets missed. Project teams move to the next new thing, funding is pulled to other new projects, and solutions die. Don’t let that happen.
5. One Brand Experience – Retailers understand that providing a seamless single experience to retailers across all parts of the business makes it easier for consumers to buy, which means more sales. Now that barriers are being removed web stores and brick and mortar stores, allowing returns across the banner, for example, customers are expecting this barrier removal to continue across all interface points. As each channel becomes easier to use, customers are likely to try out the new ones. If a customer considers an interactive screen in a shopping centre to be a window into their brand experience, they are increasingly likely to use it. It’s no longer a separate thing – using this interactive solution should be part a consistent brand experience. Try as much as possible to make that experience consistent and targeted to those consumers as much as possible.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are key elements to making a solution really and truly work for the customers and the retailer.
Where is this going?
There is no way to know where the future takes us, but here are a few of my thoughts on the future of interactive screens – hitherto known as kiosks:
Every screen is interactive – and it should be. Currently there is lots of digital signage out there, but the communication is only one way. It is showing you messages and is not open for input. The millennial cohort and younger generations are growing up with interactive screens. Not having input doesn’t make sense to them. Expect walls of digital posters in stores to be enabled for interactivity in the future. During the slow hours of the day, they show brand and product messaging. At busy times, they can be used to engage customers on selecting their best mobile plan, finding out their balance, or contacting a service rep.
Every interaction is personal – and it should be. Future interactions should be filtered to get to the point for specific clients. Allowing customers to identify themselves via loyalty cards or some other simple format means that the messaging and interactions can be customized. This can minimize screens and touches and provide a streamlined experience. It could mean language, recognizing services or products the customer has purchased or identified to provide assistance or upsell on them, offers specific to that customer, or even providing access to profiles so that customers can validate how they want to be dealt with.
Screens can be anywhere on any surface in any place. Large screens are pervasive, but expect projection and other technologies to start to show up as cost drops and brightness increases. They can cover large or irregular areas, they can provide big screen surface with a small device, and they provide flexible solution options. Starbucks had a good example of this in Toronto and Vancouver last year.
Screens will interact with each other. Everyone knows we have screens in our pocket, but some content works better in a larger format. It is technically possible to leverage both together in a store environment in myriad different ways. Why not have a pre-ordering menu on a mobile device to stage an order that is passed to an in store device to order? Why not provide a message that an order is ready to a mobile device while customers wait in the store? Why not enable selection of items for purchase of out of stock items instore from the website, and then complete the payment transaction on the small mobile screen for privacy and security? As the general public matures technically and they see benefits, these interactions will catch on.
Once again, I think the time has passed to call these interactive kiosks. Mobile is huge for reatil. Tablets are huge for retail as well, and some think these persona devices signal the end of kiosks, but interactive screens in stores, shopping centres, or wherever you wish already are and will continue to play a tremendous role in the retail ecosystem.