March 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

Bringing the web to consumers

(Page 3 of 3)

Still, there are lessons to be learned. Mendelsohn notes that kiosk innovator Home Depot aborted a plan to put kiosks in its stores to help shoppers find plumbing products, which are too numerous to completely stock in most stores. “The kiosks were hard to find, and there was no signage,” she says.

One of the more popular new uses of kiosks, she adds, is for letting customers apply for instant in-store credit card services-for example, to pay for a high ticket item or to take advantage of promotional financing offers-instead of filling out a form at the POS counter.

By offering customers service they wouldn’t otherwise get, kiosks can continue to play a broader role in retail environments, Mendelsohn adds. “Kiosks have to offer some special use to bring value to the shopping experience,” she says. l



Easing the data flow from HQ to kiosks


Although web-based kiosks have been around for years, their application has been limited due to several reasons, including complicated implementations of technology to connect kiosks with back-end operating software, the need to invest in other more pressing technology project, and a lack of strong interest from consumers, experts say.

The same evolution in Internet technology that’s bringing more integration to multi-channel retailing platforms-namely the spread of XML and other components of web services supporting the integration of disparate operating systems and applications-is providing more flexibility and cost effectiveness in deploying kiosks, making them a key component of cross-channel retailing strategies.

In the past, while each retailer may have had its own planned uses for kiosks-ranging from granting full web-surfing capability to limited product information or product configurators-deployments were hindered by technology that made it difficult to roll out particular applications by building new data files to copy information from web sites or back-end enterprise systems, experts say.

“In the past, if you put kiosks in a store, you had to duplicate data that was hard to maintain,” says Craig Stevenson, manager of retail e-commerce solutions for IBM Corp., which provides both hardware and software for kiosks. But now web services technology makes it possible to re-use the same files on kiosks that are in other environments. “We’re seeing a lot more re-use of data, so you can re-use the same data that’s on your web site and pull data from the same back-end master file,” Stevenson says. Not only does this allow merchants to use data more efficiently, but it also allows retailers to use a single team of merchandising and marketing experts for multiple applications.

As a result, retailers can more easily include kiosks in a coordinated multi-channel strategy, assuring that kiosks are offering the particular content that complements what a retailer wants to show on its web site and offer through call centers and in-store campaigns. Web services are also making it simpler to update information across multiple kiosks in the same store.

Many conventional kiosk deployments require connections from enterprise software to each individual kiosk to insert or modify content. Now, using XML, Java and other web services technologies, retailers need to change content on only one store kiosk through a remote connection, then let that kiosk automatically pass on the new content to other kiosks in the store.

“If you have 10 kiosks in a store, they can now talk to each other peer-to-peer to update their records, reducing the amount of information the retailer has to transfer from a main server to the store,” says Robert Ventresca, director of marketing for Netkey Inc., a company that provides kiosk software to J.C. Penney, Home Depot and dozens of other retailers.


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