Kiosks May Help Retailers Bridge Internet, Bricks-and-Mortar Divide

Ann All

I blogged recently about the question of whether sales on Web sites displace those that would otherwise take place in bricks-and-mortar stores. No one seems sure, including Forrester Research, which conducted a recent study about online retail sales for Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation.


One point brought out in coverage of the research: Many consumers perform research online before heading to stores to buy products. JupiterResearch puts the number of folks who routinely do this at 36 percent. While consumers likely go to the effort of printing out information from Web sites and bringing it with them for big-ticket purchases like vehicles, appliances and electronics, I can't imagine many doing it for more routine purchases.


But some might wish they had. Take, for instance, a California resident named Joe Jung featured in a Contra Costa Times article about interactive kiosks in drug stores. His doctor recommended Claritin for his allergies. Jung became confused when faced with multiple varieties of Claritin as well as lots of other brands with the same ingredients. He ended up using a kiosk produced by start-up Evincii that offers a series of over-the-counter drug recommendations based on users' symptoms and product preferences. Says Brian Kilcourse, a partner of Retail Systems Research:

Even though the business of the online channel is something in the area of 5 percent of sales, far more of their store purchases are influenced by information that comes from outside of the store. Retailers want to provide the same quality of information in the store that consumers can get on the Web.

The recommendations are displayed in groups of four. Evincii's CEO says they are generated randomly -- though I wonder if that may change, based on company tests that indicate shoppers gravitate to one of the first four choices 88 percent of the time. Evincii's business model calls for drug manufacturers, rather than retailers, to foot the bill for the kiosks. Johnson & Johnson is participating in a deployment that will put the kiosks at 200 Longs Drug Stores by the end of 2008.


As a News.com blog notes, presence on a kiosk could be worth more to advertisers than traditional display ads because the kiosks offer a more direct way to track the number of times "impressions" are viewed by potential customers.


Retail kiosk news abounds this week. According to eWEEK, HP announced it's formally getting into the self-service kiosk market after years of providing the devices to clients on an ad-hoc basis. HP's brand and management capabilities could challenge smaller kiosk specialists, says a Frost & Sullivan analyst, though it also faces competition from NCR and IBM.


And Microsoft's Surface tables -- kind of an uber-kiosk -- will give consumers a cutting-edge way to get product information at AT&T stores in New York, Atlanta, San Francisco and San Antonio, reports NewsFactor Network. Customers can review the features of a mobile devices by placing them on the table display, which will recognize the models and display a graphic with its product specs. Two devices placed side-by-side will bring up a comparison. Initially, Surface will recognize eight devices sold by AT&T, including the LG Shine and the BlackBerry Curve 8310. Ultimately, say AT&T and Microsoft, customers will be buy ringtones, graphics and other features by "grabbing" them from a menu and dropping them into a device placed on Surface.


"Wickedly cool," an analyst from Current Analysis tells NewsFactor Network, though he notes that it's unclear as to where the cutting-edge (and pricey) technology will boost sales. A bonus, says the analyst, is that Surface will help keep sales representatives up to speed on the myriad product features and service plans of different devices.


When IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson wrote about Surface last May, she cited a BusinessWeek story that indicated prices of the first models would range from $5,000 to $10,000. That's a pretty steep price to pay for "cool."


Still, Microsoft isn't the only company trying to take kiosks up-market. In September, IBM rolled out a high-end line of kiosks called AnyPlace with AMD processors capable of handling full-motion video and 3D graphics, improved touchscreen technology and nice big screens (up to 19 inches). IBM's contention is that consumers are more receptive to self-service technology if it doesn't look cheap.

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