February 28, 2001, 12:00 AM

Wal-Mart goes the kiosk route

Wal-Mart is installing gift-registry kiosks in all its stores before June. But the company is mum on whether the kiosks will be upgraded to handle web orders.

Seems like the whole retail industry is talking about kiosks these days. And now the biggest of the big has weighed in with an order for 3,000 store-based kiosks from NCR Corp. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will install NCR Corp. kiosks in every Wal-Mart store and Supercenter by the end of May. Called Automated Customer Service Machines, or ACSM, one kiosk will be located near the jewelry department of each store where customers can use it for personalized gift registry. Shoppers will be able to create bridal, baby and birthday registries by scanning items in the store they want with a handheld bar code scanner that they will check out at a Wal-Mart counter.

But many observers believe that is just the start for Wal-Mart, especially since other retailers large and small-J.C. Penney, Kmart, REI and Lids, to name a few-have deployed web-enabled kiosks to allow customers to shop online.

Wal-Mart developed the registry kiosk software with NCR’s Human Factors Engineers, a department that determines what technical configurations consumers respond to best, such as ease of use of a keyboard and screen, among other details. Other than announcing the deployment and the gift registry use, Wal-Mart executives are keeping quiet about how the giant retailer will use the kiosks.

Although Wal-Mart will use kiosks only for gift registry to start, the technology can be modified to do more for retailers. Future applications for kiosks in retail stores include tying kiosk software into a store’s inventory and POS systems which will allow store shoppers to order items. Kiosks also could be linked to store information systems so customers could check times when services such as prescriptions, photos or car repairs will be finished. Nelson Gomez, web kiosk business leader at NCR Corp., says more than 80% of retailers are expected to use kiosks within the next two years.

Christopher Merritt, a principal at Kurt Salmon Associates, says that using kiosks can help stores sell more by allowing customers to order items from a store web site that may not be available in the store. “The more you can get consumers to complete transactions in the store the more likely it is that stores will keep their piece of the market,” he says.

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