KioskMarketplace: A Harsh Reality For Kiosks

Aug 24, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from KioskMarketplace, a leading online source of news about the kiosk industry worldwide.

Touchscreen interactive kiosks were first introduced in the 1980s. While there have been innovative and effective kiosks, they have arguably been vastly outnumbered by duds and inconsequential installations. Now, the ubiquity of "smart" mobile devices is finally going to cull this industry down to a realistically small size and quickly kill off the worthless kiosks hiding in the shadows, whether Kool-Aid drinking industry players accept it or not.

Largely, kiosks have not made much of an impact in the hearts and minds of the most relevant people — users. Rarely does someone look forward to, boast about, or share positive experiences regarding their encounter with a kiosk. However, they often do with mobile.

Still, there are many non-believers out there trying to justify the need for and usefulness of existing kiosks. Here are some rebuttals and industry wistfulness:

Kiosks to print tickets/coupons from mobile device: Why? That’s a burden on the user. Airlines and Amtrak were heavily into kiosk ticket printing but are migrating to mobile check-ins/ticketing. Retailers are replacing paper scanners with new ones that can scan a phone.

Kiosks for directories, maps and concierge: Mobile is a hand-held, real-time guide with features kiosks will never have.

Kiosks for check-in/loyalty: Bolted to the floor in one spot means a bad or limited user experience. The better options are mobile check-in anywhere and location-based mobile loyalty/coupons/incentives offered precisely where they are most effective.

Endless aisle kiosks: Sure, they can extend a store’s physical inventory infinitely, but who goes to a store anymore to start catalog browsing? Who will wait 10-15 minutes for another user to finish so they can have a turn? What retailer is going to put in 10 to 20 units per location to avoid queuing? Won’t shoppers access a store’s mobile website on their own device?

Next generation kiosks will act as legitimate extensions of mobile devices, digital signage and specialized displays. For example: there’s a kiosk that can measure people’s feet and recommend orthotics based on the data it collects — something not easily achieved with a phone app alone. Additionally, there are kiosks/digital displays that interactively emit fragrance samples — a feature phones won’t have for themselves anytime soon.

But the many kiosks offering the obsolete features mentioned above are doomed. The net result will be a far smaller kiosk industry with the remaining players being companies that understand the new mobile-centric marketplace and are capable of adding value to it, where applicable, with kiosks.

What services may kiosks still provide given the increasingly mobile retail shopping experience? Do you likewise see a bleak future for kiosks at retail?

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17 Comments on "KioskMarketplace: A Harsh Reality For Kiosks"

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Lisa Bradner
Lisa Bradner
4 years 10 months ago

I agree that kiosks are in trouble probably even more from the iPad with its larger screen than from the mobile phone. The future of the kiosk is really in how you define a “kiosk.” In-store “stations” that provide virtual dressing rooms, that users can scan an RFID enabled tag of an item and see, for example, outfit ideas, or cooking demonstrations will have a place inside the store, but they will be a far different experience that most of us think of as kiosks.

Frank Riso

A need to speak to an expert not available at the store with a digital display of significant size and with video conferencing capability may be the next generation kiosk. Many of the functions of these new kiosks cannot be seen on the screen sizes of both a phone or a tablet. So for the most part I would disagree with the premise, but agree that change is in order for the suppliers of kiosks.

Rick Moss

Good points, Ken. But let’s just keep in mind that smartphones have just recently exceeded 50 percent penetration in the U.S., according to a Nielsen study released back in May. And so almost half the population, undoubtedly many of them older Americans and/or underprivileged, use cell phones that are incapable of handling kiosk-type tasks. Retailers should keep their shopper base in mind when reviewing the continuing need for kiosks.

Liz Crawford

I agree — the future of kiosks lies in features that mobile devices can’t easily offer. These features would include body monitoring like blood pressure measurement, foot analysis, vision testing, etc. In this sense, the kiosk offers a DIY medical exam rather than a DIY cash wrap or sales assistant, both of which can be easily handled via mobile.

Adrian Weidmann

The efficacy of kiosks as we know them will certainly diminish as retailers and brands alike make their mobile channels relevant to their shoppers and customers. The shopping environment will need to engage all of the human senses and scent, audio, and taste will need to be introduced through devices that are integrated into the environment. As access to bandwidth throughout the retail environment becomes accessible to shoppers, the kiosk becomes less relevant.

Mark Heckman

As one former retailer who has had both the pleasure and frustration of experimenting with in-store kiosks in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, I am still convinced that there is place for these machines. But for a kiosk or any other in-store shopper touch point to resonate with the consumer, it must do three basic things: be user friendly, time efficient, and most importantly, connect to ever-changing relevant content. The past failure of kiosks was a result of not doing a very good job with any of these three success prerequisites.

Currently, even with new competition from smart phones, kiosks are still better positioned to offer multiple coupons, deal sheets, shopping lists, product locations, in-store e-commerce, and nutritional information prior to the shop, with a printed take-a-way. While digital advocates believe paper is a dying medium, logically there are limitations as to how viewable and practical it is to convey all of these shopping aids through a very small smartphone screen.

Kiosks may have one last shot to get it right. I remain “from Missouri” on this one, but hope to be proved wrong!

Nikki Baird

I’m not ready to call time of death quite yet on the kiosk. I think there are specialized functions that will be valuable, like Liz mentions. Also, the large format is much more conducive to certain brand experiences — especially as mobile carriers crack down on unlimited data plans. Video, product demonstrations, detailed product specs — some of these may be more easily handled on a big screen instead of a small one.

But what fascinates me the most are the possibilities involved in interactivity between mobile and a big screen — so that a display screen in a store can become a ‘kiosk’ with the shopper’s mobile phone as remote control. Yeah, a lot of it is cool factor, and I’ll be the first to say that ‘cool’ alone is not enough.

The biggest problem to-date is that kiosks have almost never solved a shopper problem or made their shopping trip more convenient or fun. They’ve just made things less inconvenient. That’s not enough — it’s never been enough.

Robert DiPietro

Not dead yet. I think Rick brought up the fact that smartphone penetration is at 50% so we still have a ways to go until majority of population has the technology.

Kiosks also bring other dimensions of customer interaction. Intel demonstrated a kiosk at CES that projected a hologram of a Lego construction from scanning the barcode. Maybe that could extend to clothing as well.

Frank Beurskens
4 years 9 months ago
The focus below is relative to grocery reflecting our experience in both in-store interactive (kiosks), as well as web and mobile. Here are a just a few facts that counter this article’s point of view. * Last month 18% of retailer web activity came through a mobile device — not quite a ubiquitous channel for access yet. * In a recent large scale store deployment that depended on cellular connectivity, 70% of stores were unable to maintain a viable cell phone signal in the back of the store. Interference from equipment and steel structures are partially to blame. * For larger chains, in-store kiosk usage exceeds web usage by as much as a factor of 10 (the same content available in both channels.) In-store interactive displays serve as the portal for all things digital; as example the one place, in-store, a shopper can go to update their loyalty card or view point totals, print a coupon, or view coupon-to-card detail. The more we see innovative solutions emerge for the web and mobile, the greater the demand for in-store interactive displays. We are seeing the highest demand for in-store interactive since entering the business ten years ago. Bleak? Obsolete? Doomed? Keep… Read more »
Dave Carlson
4 years 9 months ago

I’ll match Mark’s bet and raise one. Firstly, “kiosk” is, for many, a dirty word in retail. It conjures up plenty of bad images and experiences: arcade games, poor user interfaces, spotty performance, lines forming, front-end operational risks and wasted floor space to name a few.

Remove the “kiosk” moniker and think instead of in-store touch points, many in place today. A personalized offer printer concealed in the weekly circular rack can deliver tactile, easily viewed and highly personalized content, including relevant offers. A large digital, touch screen monitor provides a compelling search for recipes that meet a nutritional or ingredient-based dinner requirement. Great graphics add to the experience and to its usefulness in advertising. Imagine the smartphone capturing the prep instructions and/or receiving a quickly printed ingredient list (with aisle locations). Deli ordering screens are also faster and easier than counterpart smart phone apps.

I’ll champion a quick death of the word “kiosk,” followed by creative thinking on the use of shopper-facing technology to deliver the best in-store shopper experience.

Ralph Jacobson

Kiosks still hold the convenience factor in that they can have direct, quick access to information at POP and/or POS. Rather than searching for it on your handheld, it is still faster to just touch the screen for what you want.

Has mobile eaten in to this kiosk market? Yes. However, smart retailers and CPGs will continue to find compelling reasons for shoppers to utilize this “hands-on” convenience.

Jason Goldberg

There are still some great use cases for retail kiosks, but certainly many of the shopper use cases we’d have solved with a kiosk 10 years ago, are much better addressed with a mobile device today.

We explored this almost 18 months ago here on RetailWire.

Kiosk have been the “Next Big Thing” in retail merchandising for the past 25 years. The reality is that traditional retail kiosks have some self-limiting factors. Good stores are very busy, and a kiosk can only serve one shopper (or one shopping cluster) at a time. If you invent a shopping experience on a kiosk that every shopper wants, then you’d need quite a few of them in the store to meet that demand.

Not only are many digital merchandising use-cases moving to the shoppers mobile devices, we’re seeing a lot of digital merchandising use-cases move to the sales associates mobile device (e.g. the mobile POS, etc.).

Kiosks aren’t dead, but they certainly aren’t a growth industry.

Ed Dunn
4 years 9 months ago

There is no way kiosks are going away; never going to happen. What will happen is kiosks will transform from awkward looking devices that do not fit the environment to an interactive device with custom furniture that blends into the overall retailer design.

Mobile phones have limitations such as dropped calls and connections (which is more common than most people think) as well as a limited interface.

Expect to see more gesture based screens, rear projection film as well as object recognition taking the place of kiosks to provide larger than life interactivity to engage consumers.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
4 years 9 months ago

I’m heavily involved in the development of a revolutionary new way to deliver highly targeted and customized paper coupons in supermarkets. It involves several very small kiosks throughout each store, and the rewards can be customized from customers’ home PCs.

Our current internal debate is about the value of adding a mobile application. We are taking into account two concerns: First, as Rick Moss indicated above, “smartphones have just recently exceeded 50 percent penetration in the U.S.” And, we can be double-dog sure that they will never reach 100% penetration. Today’s untargeted delivery systems for paper coupons, however, achieve penetration levels that smartphone couponers can only dream about.

And second, most supermarkets lack the new, sophisticated POS scanning systems capable of reading coupon codes from mobile devices. Penetration of these systems in those venues is unlikely to reach 50 percent even decades from now.

We will add a mobile app to our program later, but its development is over the horizon for us. Right now, we’re counting on the kiosks and are absolutely certain that they cannot be replaced by the “mobile shopping experience.”

Jerry Gelsomino

It’s obvious that the future of kiosks will be highly specialized, like serving those in the minority who do not have a smart phone, those who have a physical disability, those who need to access a product or service immediately and can’t wait for normal delivery, or want instant satisfaction. Kiosks will have to find a ‘can’t wait’ and ‘convenience’ market position as ‘novelty’ may not be enough anymore.

Mike Osswald
Mike Osswald
4 years 9 months ago
There’s no doubt that traditional touch-screen kiosks are largely becoming less relevant, but the use of connected digital displays in retail has not matured by any means. I think the industry has only just begun to concept the connected experience between smartphones/tablets and the larger screen available at point of sale. There are plenty of opportunities in many industries to “bring your project” with you to the store/showroom and “lay it out” on a larger screen where an expert can help you make the right decisions. Try reviewing/culling a wish list of comparison items by sharing a smartphone, it’s not really convenient; and as much as tablets are becoming the “computer” for many, you still need a bigger screen when away from home. Just imagine an NFC-enabled smartphone being immediately recognized by a large screen — the owner acknowledges the connection and their access-anywhere data “spills out” to be worked on together. The smartphone could function as cursor and keyboard, and even become the screen that shows the shopping cart (ready to finalize the in-store checkout with credit/personal information on the phone). At the same time, printouts are still very important for complex purchases, because it’s quite simply the most… Read more »
John Crossman
John Crossman
4 years 9 months ago

Kiosks are still a cool way for a start up business to break into retail. We have an tenant in a mall in Central Florida that helps small business owners create and start their own businesses. If it is retail, we will provide a kiosk for free to help them get started. In a world where we need more jobs and retail, kiosks can be of assistance.


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