The Trouble with Kiosks

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2007-05-18 Print this article Print

At particular peak periods, the devices could be borrowed by employees and turned into line-busters before returning it for general consumer use.

Kiosks are another growing area for in-store, but Safir cautioned that retailers have to deploy them cautiously. There is a fuzzy line that separates improved efficiency from decreased customer service and many retail chief financial officers want to place that line at a very different point than their customers.
There are, however, extremes where the choices are easy. "A Nordstrom (associate) is not going to tell a customer, Go look it up on the kiosk," Safir said.
But even an in-store kiosk, which can run into problems, as BestBuy recently discovered when it placed two Web sites in its stores, one showing the Web and the other looking identical but showing higher in-store prices. The Connecticut Attorney General is investigating whether BestBuy defrauded customers by confusing them as to which site was which. The other problem with these expanding in-store networks is that they are going to overwhelmingly be wireless. Its becoming quite clear that wireless networks of all kinds will be an ongoing retail security Achilles heel, as TJX is teaching us all. What security holes will be opened when consumers are issued devices with limited—and theoretically controlled—access to store information? Its straightforward to keep unauthorized people out of a network. (Not easy, but straightforward.) But its quite difficult to let them in a little, but set up strong barriers against them moving in a little further. It can be done, but its making life a lot more difficult. Common sense precautions can be made, such as limiting the wirelessly-broadcast data to a relatively innocuous customer ID number, with the identification, authentication and payment info locked in the server and will then be sent to the credit card processor through a wired connection. Putting security aside, the allure of networking is that everything seamlessly shares information. Less romantic is the reality that connecting different kinds of devices exponentially increases the chances of a glitch. Whats the biggest network repair headache? Thats when there is a problem with data exchange between device A and device B, made by different vendors. Testing shows that both devices, on their own, work fine, which gives cover to both vendors to say its not their fault. The error occurs when the two devices try to communicate. Im not suggesting that elaborate in-store wireless networks of the future are to be avoided. Im merely saying that they are far from Nirvana. They are closer to New Jersey. But maybe, just maybe, were talking the better parts of New Jersey. On an unrelated note to readers: For those of you who may be in Boston June 5 or 6, Ill be moderating panel discussions on mobile technology in retail, CRM and security at the ERIexchange show at The Boston Convention Center. (All of my panels will theoretically be in Room 52A.) The panels will include some of the more frequently quoted experts in these columns, including: security guru Mark Rasch, formerly head of high-tech crimes for the U.S. Justice Dept.; Marina ORourke, the director of retail technology for sandwich chain Subway; Cathy Hotka from the Retail Industry Leaders Assoc.; and analysts Tamara Mendelsohn (Forrester), Rob Garf (AMR) and Nikki Baird (Retail Systems Alert Group). These panels have some sort of a registration fee, but eWEEK retail readers can get in for free by registering with the code disc4. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at To read earlier retail technology opinion columns from Evan Schuman, please click here. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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