A Kiosk for the Modern Age

By Julie Ritzer Ross — March 13, 2012

Over the past two or three years, there has been a seismic shift in the kiosk landscape as single-purpose units become increasingly multi-functional and, even more importantly, transition into myriad forms of  digital touch points with which consumers can interact. While price constraints may previously have precluded channel players from attempting to adapt these solutions—whether informational kiosks, digital signage, and combinations of the two as well as mobile POS—lower-cost components are now making it easier for VARs and ISVs to move into this space.

“Professional digital signage” and other touch points are now “well within reach for businesses large and small,” says Bob Rosenberry, manager, Visual Solutions, Retail Solutions Global Business Unit, HP (www.hp.com).  
Todd Bringuet, account manager at digital technology VAR Ace Sign Company, Springfield, Ill., corroborates Rosenberry’s comments. He adds that the smaller form factor of digital signs and other customer engagement hardware, coupled with increasing solutions scalability, is also helping to make digital touch points easier for resellers to configure and target for SMB audiences.

Not surprisingly, retail, and hospitality are the top two markets ripe for digital touch point penetration, according to the Digital Touch Point Study conducted by VSR in December 2011. Popular kiosk/digital signage applications include, among others, conveying information to customers on the store floor and at the point of sale, order-capture (from inventory available in the back room and online); examples of top hospitality applications include digital menu boards and displays as well as order taking.

However, other vertical segments remain ripe for the picking. “Gaming, education, transportation, healthcare, and government can all benefit from interactive signage technology and digital touch points, whether for information dissemination on demand, wayfinding, order status, inventory management, listing upcoming events, scheduling or something else,” asserts Steve Aquista, CTS, DSCE, senior director, digital signage, DT Research (www.dtri.com).

OUTSIDE THE BOX
No matter the vertical segment on which VARs focus their digital touch point endeavors, thinking out of the box in terms of applications and customer niches ranks among the keys to successfully bringing these solutions to the SMB market. “SMBs favor solutions that fall into the same mold as the ones used in Tier 1, but they also want very much to go beyond the cookie-cutter realm,” asserts Frank Riso, senior director, retail industry lead, Motorola Solutions (www.motorolasolutions.com).

Riso cites the example of a small shoe store chain that offers customers the option of finding out whether any given shoe they spot in a display is in stock by using one of his company’s barcode scanner-equipped, mobile micro-kiosks to scan a barcode on the item’s sole or box. Installing
micro-kiosks in the dressing rooms of apparel shops so patrons can signal a salesperson for assistance or scan the bar code on a garment to see what other items might complement it also qualifies as an out-of-the-box digital touch point application that would work in an SMB environment,
he asserts.

In a slightly different approach, 4Food, a New York City, N.Y. quick-service burger restaurant, has deployed an interactive digital signage designed by Zero-In Media, a digital signage VAR with offices in New York City and Sparta, N.J. The solution allows 4Food customers to log into the restaurant’s website (www.4food.com) and build their burgers in advance via computers or 4Food’s smart phone application. If customers need to place an order upon entering the store, employees take orders on iPads, which upload instantly to the kitchen. A 13-foot by 20-foot LED wall displays TV programming, 4Food’s Twitter feed, customers’ Four Square updates and the customer names as orders are ready for pick-up.  Digital signage software from Scala (www.scala.com) integrates with the restaurant’s POS and real-time inventory. The network also interfaces with 4Food’s online community, where creating an account is encouraged and members can earn points for food.

Meanwhile, recent digital touch point installations by digital solutions integrator and reseller Four Winds Interactive, Denver, Colo., underscore the value of tapping into unusual niches. Although Four Winds had traditionally not worked in the transportation sector and had not considered that “secondary” public transportation entities would be receptive to its technology, the company was approached last year by Washington State Ferries, Seattle, Wash., to design a digital signage solution that would improve passenger communications and provide critical assistance to the hearing-impaired population who ride the vessels, explains Greg Newman, director of implementation.

Currently in use with two ferries and two terminals, Seattle and Bainbridge Island, the solution provides “a comprehensive messaging system in a simple, quick, easy-to-use interface,” Newman says. On the back end, operators have three separate terminals with interactive buttons to push out pre-loaded messaging. An on-screen keyboard and external keyboard allow custom messages, such as notifications of delayed departure or pages of individual passengers, to be created and sent to the digital signage boards on the fly.

Moreover, Four Winds has been engaged to configure digital touch points centering on digital signage (sometimes, in conjunction with kiosks) for another seemingly “alternative” niche—houses of worship. In these applications, digital signage is used to engage congregants by broadcasting services on digital screens and giving them vehicles for accessing information about, and adding it to, everything from worship schedules to volunteer signups. At least one digital solutions vendors have begun to support reseller partners’ efforts in targeting the religious sector: Panasonic Solutions Company (www.panasonic.com) this past summer held a series of seminars to educate church media decision-makers about the value of cost-effective engagement tools, including digital signage, in connecting with their congregations.

CORE COMPETENCIES
Expanding opportunities on the digital touch point front notwithstanding, several core competencies are required of VARs and ISOs if they are to establish a strong foothold anywhere in the market. Notably, there is a need, as one source puts it, to properly broach the conversation with prospects.

“Explore and understand what the client is trying to achieve,” advises Kevin Schroll, product manager, commercial display, Samsung Enterprise Business Division (www.samsung.com). “Are they looking to more effectively engage with their customers or attract more customers with digital signage?  Are they looking to reduce costs and/or human headcount?  Be able to explain the entire technology ecosystem—i.e., displays, software content/management, media players, mounts/cables, enclosures, types of touch technology available, and the installation/integration process.”

Kathleen Curry, vice president, North American channel sales, NCR (www.ncr.com), agrees. She notes that while customers in certain segments may establish digital touch points faster than those in other markets based on competitive pressure—“the retail sector, in which players cannot afford to have unhappy customers lest they lose business to the store down the street, is an example—promoting adoption in other markets may entail” the ability to present technology as “being more about consumer experience than competitive edge. Will a person not buy a train ticket because they can’t do it via a self-service kiosk? Probably not; however, (VARs and ISVs) should point out that the efficiency of such an application can drive both productivity and cost savings so profits can be spent improving passengers’ experience in the terminal and on the train—driving greater customer satisfaction, loyalty, and, ultimately, more passengers.”

Moreover, just as VARs and ISVs must be sufficiently nimble to move beyond creating plain-vanilla digital touch point applications for SMBs, they need to become proficient in the programming, development, and mapping of customized content. Curry cites the example of North Country Business Products, an NCR partner headquartered in Bemidji, Minn. The company designed a multi-lingual self-checkout solution intended to assist Midwestern grocers in catering to and cultivating the loyalty of patrons who want to scan their own purchases, but prefer to handle checkout in a language other than English.

A recipient of an Innovative Solution Award from The Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) and VSR, North Country Business Products’ solution runs on NCR’s SelfServ Checkout kiosk hardware and includes the NCR Advanced Checkout Solution for Independent Retailers (ACS-IR). In addition to English, customers can complete their transactions in Spanish, Italian, or Polish.  North Country Business Products is positioning the solution as allowing a means through which independent supermarkets can offer “better, more tailored service than their larger competitors,” according to CEO Dean Crotty.  “And this degree of customization with” digital touch points is imperative.

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