Visit a quick-service restaurant, movie theater, or other busy retailer, and you'll likely find a self-service kiosk. It might be a freestanding display where you can browse the merchant's offerings, or a tableside tablet where you can order food and pay your bill.
This proliferation of digital solutions is part of a larger trend toward retail automation. Kiosks and other technologies are critical for maintaining profitability in the face of rising labor costs and increasingly complex customer expectations.
Self-service kiosks help control costs by reducing the head count needed, for example, in an ordering or checkout line. At the same time, kiosks can improve customer service by speeding up the ordering and checkout process.
Consider the experience of one global quick-service restaurant (QSR). The company installed four kiosks at a pilot store and in just two months achieved:
- 22% more in-store transactions
- 23% increase in overall sales
- 89% of customers reported they would use again
Kiosks can also help retailers address the challenges of acquiring, training, and maintaining a workforce. Due to high employee turnover in retail, these issues often result in high and unpredictable costs. In contrast, kiosks can shorten customer wait times, reduce revenue losses from order errors, and create upsell opportunities.
According to Benoit Dupuit, head of Marketing for Acrelec, the initial costs for a self-service kiosk can be recovered in one to two years. After that, ongoing costs drop to a lower, predictable amount for occasional kiosk upgrades and maintenance.
Enhancing the Customer Experience
Aside from labor cost savings, kiosks can enhance the customer's shopping experience, which will help increase the bottom line for a business.
The array of applications a kiosk can provide is almost unlimited, as long as the right hardware is in place. For example, an ordering kiosk may need an NFC reader for tap-to-pay transactions and a printer to generate receipts.
Cameras are perhaps the most important hardware to consider. Installing cameras not only increases security but also enables functionality such as facial detection. This opens the way to unique user experiences, such as payment via WeChat facial recognition.
Merging Physical with Digital
The new generation of kiosks can fundamentally transform how retailers do business. Whereas traditional retail focuses on engaging customers through visual merchandising and store layouts, stores of the future will rely on digital merchandising techniques from interactive kiosks to virtual fitting rooms.
The goal of merging digital and physical experiences is to use technology to improve customer experiences throughout the entire shopping and purchasing process. This experience will occur both online and offline.
“In the Phygital (physical + digital) experience, the customer will initiate and complete their order wherever they want,” said Dupuit. “The customer might start their order at home on an e-commerce site, in the car on a mobile phone, at the store, or in front of a kiosk. But the order pickup may take place somewhere else, for example, at the store or via home delivery.”
Similarly, a business will be able to monitor the store as it does its website, delivering the phygital data in an integrated platform. In such a world, the kiosk and the mobile phone may eventually function as one.
Looking to the Cloud
Like mobile phones, the kiosk is becoming an application platform where new applications can be added or removed depending on the store and customer needs. Supporting these features will require data analytics concerning customer in-store and online purchasing, and preferences as well as the special offerings of a particular store.
Integrating big data will help kiosks to better improve the user experience and the store's productivity by enabling the kiosk to suggest specific items or services for purchase based on what similar customers have chosen.
But these evolving capabilities create new complexities and challenges. Retail businesses will have to keep a tighter eye on inventory to support provisioning of products based on real-time customer demands. No customer wants to wait for an in-store purchase.
Nor will customers have patience with a kiosk that is not working. That is why businesses will also have to ensure the uptime or operational availability of the kiosk by remotely monitoring and managing its condition, typically via a cloud-based service.
Strategic Approach Required
Taking full advantage of emerging kiosk technology requires a strategic approach to define the scope and objectives that a business hopes to achieve with digital technology. Some will focus simply on individual technologies to address operational issues like product ordering. Others will choose a strategy that will digitally transform the entire business with an end-to-end platform, e.g., one that includes a number of kiosks connected via middleware to the cloud.
An end-to-end solution would integrate customer kiosk and store data (product supplies and availability) that come from different sources to enable better decision-making processes.
A good example of the end-to-end approach comes from Acrelec, which offers a wide range of customizable kiosks for many emerging use cases. Servicing the world's largest restaurants, retail, and leading brands, the company provides an integrated platform of hardware, software, and services to reimagine the customer experience in a digitally transformed world.
The Acrelec approach is made possible by its partnership with Intel. In addition to powering Acrelec's kiosks with high-performance processors, Intel® technology provides a platform for application development and remote management of kiosks at scale. The result is an amazing customer experience that can be centrally monitored and maintained to ensure efficient operations and high levels of operational uptime – all while increasing a business' bottom line.
As an example, the ADDIE kiosk is a self-service station designed to be highly customizable (see Figure 1). Based on a cutting-edge Intel® Core™ processor, the kiosk boasts a massive multi-touch display that can be coupled with a wide variety of components.
A Platform for Kiosk Innovation
To address the business needs of the store, ADDIE runs on the Acrelec Transformation Platform (ATP). This cloud-based multi-application middleware provides brands with all the tools and technology needed to create a digital enterprise. It manages all kiosk hardware, software, content, and services. The software provides an API for easy integration of both proprietary and 3rd-party applications.
“ATP allows the restaurant or store to control all kiosks and related devices,” explained Dupuit. “The store can control all of the kiosk peripherals and communication modes. It will quickly alert the store if a kiosk is not working and will enable proactive maintenance. Finally, the platform gives valuable insight into the usage of all apps and provides data for customer analytics.”
By controlling all of the peripherals on the kiosks—including printers, cameras, keypads, etc.—ATP makes it easy for retail stores to incorporate customized applications. ATP takes care of the cumbersome task of interfacing with each and every peripheral that a software application might use.
The bottom line is that kiosks are a key element of digital transformation for merchants. Customers are already used to kiosks and should be receptive as new generations of kiosks and applications make their shopping and buying experience more enjoyable. At the same time, stores are installing more kiosks as a way of controlling labor and infrastructure costs while gaining access to customer usage data to help make better business decisions.
About the Author
John covers today’s latest high-tech, science and even science fiction in blogs, magazine articles, books and videos. He is an experienced physicist, engineer, journalist, author and professor who continues to speak at major conferences and before the camera on Chipestimate.com TV.Follow on Twitter More Content by John Blyler