Dont Blame IT Yet
If you want to blame corporate managers for the frustration, Harding said, dont look at IT: Look at marketing. "The central marketing department. Thats where they feel, God forbid, the store sent out their own campaign and it wasnt corporate branding." Marketers also often fear that store managers might saturate customers with direct mail and contacts "because were not controlling the store e-mails." Another market observer is Margo Zenk, technical director and senior partner for Matrix Consultants, a marketing firm that specializes in kiosks. One of her clients is $21 billion car/motorcycle vendor Suzuki. Suzukis store managers didnt want to share information with the areas other store managers, let alone corporate IT or marketing. "Theyre not into sharing any information," she said.In those environments, todays kiosks are a good fit. Unlike an in-store PC with a Web connection, the kiosks have hard disks and memory sufficient to seamlessly run very high-end animations, the kind of multimedia that would either be too cumbersome for download or streaming. The devices can also be placed anywhere, including parking lots, and can show elaborate product demonstrations. Most importantly, many kiosks today are two-way, which can turn them into information-gathering and sometimes even CRM units. Consider $11 billion Nike, which bills itself as the worlds leading designer, marketer and distributor of authentic athletic footwear, apparel, equipment and accessories. But Nike is also becoming a significant retailer, with 15 Niketowns, more than 80 Nike Factory Stores and two stores intended to attract active woman called NIKEgoddess Boutiques. At Niketowns, customers are encouraged to design their own footwear on the kiosk. The sneaker is then created and delivered to that customer. Hence, it gathers a ton of customer preference information and can connect to a specific customer, who willingly provides full contact information. Is it a true retail CRM system? Well, if the shoe fits "Kiosks are not necessarily just Web on a stick," said Planars Byrnes, whose company makes those kiosks for Nike. "The new kiosks are much more single-purposed, much more product-specific." Kiosks arent the only non-traditional retail tools today. To read more about retailers using consumer cell phones and PDAs for checkout, click here. Byrnes spoke of the kiosk trend as a natural result of two other trends: Products are becoming much more complicated and sometimes sophisticated; and retail sales reps are becoming younger, less experienced and less sophisticated. "American retail, by and large, is run by teenagers," Byrnes said, adding that teenagers contribute greatly to retails very high employee turnover rate. Those factors force store management to reduce product differentiation points to whatever can be squeezed into a few bullet points on an index card, Byrnes argues, while increasingly complicated products demand the opposite. "It remains a fact of retailing that almost 75 percent of all purchase decisions are made at the point of purchase in a bricks and mortar environment," so any sales assistance needs to happen on-site, and Byrnes concludes that that means kiosks.Another trend is consumer acceptance with self-service, whether its in the form of retail self-checkout, electronic ticket machines at airports or the ever-present ATM. "The marketplace is already headed in one direction. Customer frustration is very high. Americans are quite content to be in a largely self-service environment," Byrnes said.Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms Retail Center for the latest news, views and analysis of this vital industry.
To read about how 7-Eleven discovered the essential nature of sharing information with store managers, click here.