Smart Kiosks Play To Convenience, Personalization

 
 
By eweek  |  Posted 2001-01-15
 
 
 

Many kiosks dont do much to attract customers, boost marketing or raise sales, but examples of successful kiosks are emerging, according to Francie Mendelsohn. Her firm, Summit Research Associates, studies kiosks. Some of the best examples are in Europe, Mendelsohn says.

Take Oscar, a kiosk found in Prague. It doesnt sell anything by itself. Oscars only job is to answer frequently asked questions and, in the process, bring a customer swiftly through one of the darkest mysteries confronting modern consumers: What is a reasonable cell phone plan?

The kiosk lets customers enter how many minutes they want to speak, then announces what plan makes the most sense. Users can change the amount, toggling up and down to see whether adding or subtracting changes the plan.

Once a customer has decided, he or she can walk to a nearby salesperson to buy the minutes and the desired plan.

One thing businesses have learned is to keep kiosks simple, Mendelsohn says. Dont add too many features or stray too far from the core business — that is, if you sell clothes, dont use a kiosk to sell magazines.

However, sometimes a company has a brand that lets it get away with such diversification.

In England, Virgin has rebranded its failing Our Price stores by installing 500 kiosks in 100 of the stores, which are now called V Shops, to blend online and in-store shopping. The kiosks hawk products across the Virgin empire, including CDs, DVDs, games, Sony Walkmans, MP3 players and Virgin portable phones, as well as financial services, air travel and cars.

The kiosks paid for themselves in a matter of weeks, Mendelsohn says.

Personalization is the theme of another English kiosk, this one in the Sainsburys grocery store chain. The kiosks announce sales and track how many points a customer earns and can use in exchange for discounts. The kiosks also print out coupons tailored to individual customers.

Its proven extremely popular with customers, who use loyalty cards at the kiosks.

"About 80 percent swipe their cards before shopping. It may be higher," Mendelsohn says, talking about what she witnessed at one store.

One kiosk that has taken off on U.S. highways can be found at Travel Centers of America, the nations largest chain of truck stops. It aims to serve truck drivers. Like Sainsburys, the attraction is in the point system.

Truck drivers earn points for buying diesel fuel. For every 50 points, drivers get a free shower, which is a big deal to drivers.

After two months, the kiosks signed up 290,000 drivers.

"This resulted in huge and quantifiable increases in the sale of diesel fuel," Mendelsohn says.

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