August 12, 2002, 12:00 AM

Kiosks extend retailers’ reach

Web kiosks are coming of age in retailing.

The idea that web-enabled kiosks can tie multiple shopping channels together is finally coming to fruition. After several years of ramp-up, the applications for store kiosks are now in tune with retail strategy. Some retailers are using kiosks to expand their inventory to help store shoppers find what they’re looking for, while others are using them to add services to their retail environment, yet others are using them to extend their geographical reach and some are using them for workforce management.

The most well-known, and oldest success story for in-store web kiosks comes from Seattle-based Recreational Equipment Inc., which sought to move its hefty catalog of 70,000 listings to a more limitless infrastructure-the web. REI believed store kiosks were the best way to make that information available to customers. The company started its kiosk endeavor in 1997 and today has 61 stores equipped with 124 kiosks.

The kiosks provide the depth of information available on the web while helping to save sales by making available not only what a store is out of but also what the store couldn’t carry in the first place because of lack of demand or size restrictions. REI says the kiosks contribute sales equal to a 25,000-square-foot store. REI plans to continue to expand its kiosk program, adding wireless capabilities to store employees for even faster access to product information.

Listening stations

Following in REI’s footsteps, companies such as Barnes & Noble, Circle K and Virgin Megastores all are using in-store web kiosks to help customers get information and search for items. Virgin’s 45 kiosks in stores in Boston and New York, which supplement in-store listening stations, each receive 3,000 to 5,000 CD scans for listening each month and the company says the rate at which customers buy web-viewed items is three times what they expected.

In another kiosk strategy, Phoenix, Ariz.-based
7-Eleven Stores is using web-based kiosks to provide financial services such as check-cashing as well as the newly introduced cash-accepting function for consumers to make online purchases. 7-Eleven is working with Cyphermint Inc., which provides the infrastructure and systems integration for kiosks, to install the Vcom kiosks in 1,000 stores this year and 3,500 stores by the end of 2003.

Cyphermint is using BroadVision’s retail commerce application to provide a web shopping and service environment on the 7-Eleven kiosks. The BroadVision technology will give Vcom kiosk users 24-hour access to make purchases at a variety of approved online merchants. The stores also will use BroadVision technology to run advertising on the kiosks. The store expects to give users web access to event and travel ticketing, travel directions and maps as well as online shopping with in-store fulfillment options, such as arranging to pick up items as soon as they hit the store.

Another way kiosk technology is working its way into the retail arena is with product scanning. Vendors are developing scanning systems that allow consumers to scan items they want to purchase either at a store or in their home using a handheld scanning device. They then take the device to the store kiosk and download the information. The kiosk can sort out the products based on location, offer special savings or even give nutritional information, as in the case of Beeline Shopper, a Michigan-based company touting the Beeline Shopper Personal Advisor.

The pizza kiosk

Meanwhile, kiosk manufacturer NCR Corp. recently signed a deal with writing utensil company A.T. Cross Co. to develop a kiosk program for retail locations that uses bar code technology to give consumers access to shopping lists, purchase history and loyalty program information. The companies say the program will help customers save time while maximizing retailers’ direct marketing capabilities.

In a deployment that increases a seller’s geographical reach, Chicago’s Malnati Organization Inc. is deploying kiosks at convention center McCormick Place and in a retail store affiliated with McCormick Place. Customers can order Lou Malnati’s pizza and other Chicago culinary treats for delivery around the country.

Kiosk technology is being used in retail stores not just for marketing and sales. New England and New York-based grocery store chain Hannaford Bros. Co. is using self-service in-store kiosks to give employees access to human resources information. This summer, Hannaford is rolling out the service at 115 stores. The company is using the web kiosks to reduce up to 250,000 HR-related faxes that come in each year.

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