October 2, 2001, 12:00 AM


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A long-time distributor of components such as printer mechanisms and controller boards to OEMs, Instruments & Equipment entered the kiosk marketplace some 18 months ago. It’s now a primary distributor of NCR interactive kiosks used in several industries including retail, as well as a provider of solutions and kiosk elements ranging from components to finished systems. “Retailers and others can make a mistake when they take on too much of the job themselves and step outside their core expertise,” says Trobert. Case in point: a book seller client came to Instruments & Equipment for a revamp of its kiosks after incorrectly coded software instructed kiosk printers to cut paper in the wrong place, resulting in a paper pile-up on the floor and eventually, Trobert says, a lawsuit from a customer who slipped on the paper. To ensure that all systems and parts work in concert, the company delivers soup to nuts solutions-or as much of that as a client wishes to buy-that can oversee the kiosk design, implementation and operation end to end, including remote management of the kiosks.

Sales and more at Staples

Framingham, Mass.-based Staples Inc. has linked its dot-com channel’s inventory management system to web-enabled kiosks it’s established in its approximately 1,000 stores. Staples completed its kiosk installation late last year, and since January, says J.B. Lyon, vice president of Staples Direct, the kiosks have been responsible for “hundreds of millions” of dollars in sales. While Staples has yet to dig deeper into the numbers, it believes that a fair amount of those sales are incremental versus transfers from other channels.

“Our primary objective was to provide what customers are looking for at any time,” says Lyon. “Say a customer wanted 100 folding chairs and we only had 50 in the store. The kiosks let the customer have the other 50 delivered the next day.”

In addition to giving store customers access to bigger quantities, the web-enabled kiosks give them access to more variety. The stores generally carry about 7,000 SKUs while the kiosks hook shoppers up with the Staples.com inventory of more than 45,000 SKUs. And besides importing web content and inventory data into the store, kiosks offer interactive customization services that allow shoppers to configure their own computer systems for purchase, for example, or design and order their own business cards. While those services are available on the web site as well, viewing and trying out product samples in-store gives some customers even more confidence in their purchase decisions, Lyon points out.

Kiosk use patterns also are helping Staples store managers optimize promotions and inventory, Lyon adds. “For example, we see a lot of furniture sales go through the kiosks for delivery, because people don’t necessarily want to have to carry furniture home,” he says. “You can learn from that how much of furniture sales are for delivery, and you can make inventory decisions to stock less of it in the stores.”

One of the kiosks’ biggest contributions to ROI has been a surprise: it’s proving to be one of the most effective ways to update store associates on fast changing product information. “When we designed the kiosks it was very oriented toward the customer,” says Lyon. “With new iterations, we’re designing it for two customers: the shopper and the store associate.”

Making stores sticky

Retailers are finding that kiosks don’t only capture more sales by offering store shoppers the ability to order online, they’re also capable of nudging shoppers toward store purchases. “A lot of the Home Depot stores, for instance, are huge,” observes Dougherty. “Shoppers only have so much time in the day, so they don’t want to have to wander the aisles continuously. It’s great to find the product through the kiosk, particularly if you’re in a large store.”

Or one with an especially large product selection. Borders’ stores don’t occupy the real estate of a big box store, but because their inventory of books and CDs take up less room per unit than dishwashers or boom boxes, Borders packs a lot of product into a smaller space. That can turn finding titles into a hunt. And that’s one reason Borders launched its in-store Title Sleuth kiosks. The kiosks, powered by Netkey software, indicate in-stock and offsite inventory to tell shoppers where a particular title is in the store, or if not in stock, how long it would take to arrive if ordered for delivery to the store.

While store shoppers can’t yet order and pay online for home delivery at the kiosks, that’s a feature planned for the kiosks in the future. With uses of its 3,000 store kiosks now numbering about 6 million per week, Borders says the 18-month-old program already has a positive impact on store sales, though the company hasn’t disclosed numbers. The kiosks have helped embellish Borders’ brand, too: almost 75% of its customers view the kiosks as a feature that differentiates Borders from other bookstores, according to the company.

It’s London-based BP’s belief that web-enabled kiosks can pull their own weight-and deliver on ROI-in tiny stores, too. Retailers’ Internet presence is expanding into gas stations as BP rolls out web-enabled kiosks in convenience stores attached to its U.S. service stations. College Station, Texas-based NetNearU is providing software, the user interface, and the remote back-end management system for the kiosks, which have grown to 126 worldwide in six months. Initially tested in the U. K., the kiosks are just now being deployed by BP in the U.S.

At the kiosks, BP customers can shop online, get local information, maps, and even check e-mail. “Just about any web site you can go to at home, you can go to at the kiosks, though there are some filtering devices,” says Cody Catalena, chief technology officer of NetNearU. While the kiosks give shoppers access to web merchants, their other objective is to make BP convenience stores “sticky,” as customers who walk into the store to use the kiosks also may decide to purchase magazines, sunglasses or potato chips once inside. “The kiosks get the stores more foot traffic and make for more satisfied customers,” says Catalena. “The average person who walks into a convenience store spends a certain amount of money. If you can bring that number of people up, you have a higher chance of selling more product.”

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