The retail landscape has been changing for the past several years, and the recent economic downturn has only added to the challenges faced by retail executives. How is on-line business affecting the brick-and-mortar business? How are retailers getting customers into the store? How are they keeping them in the store? How are retailers improving the customer’s in-store experience, while coaxing them to make a buying decision right then, without going across the street, or without going home to surf the web for a cheaper price?
Retailers spend a ton of money on advertising, and marketing in general, trying to get customers in the store. The challenge is to get them to buy while they are there. But there are ways of enhancing the customer’s in-store experience, dramatically improving the probability of a purchase. In most cases, the in-store experience is best enhanced by stellar customer service, accomplished by placing smiling, well-educated sales associates at the end of every aisle, ready to assist at the blink of an eye. Can’t find something? Need a price look-up? Don’t know the balance of a gift card? Only one on the shelf but you need two? Just triple the number of people on the floor and the problem is solved. Of course, the added payroll costs will drive the retailer out of business in a few weeks, but what a grand few weeks it will be for the customer!
Realistically, it’s just not feasible to put enough people on the floor to give every customer their own personal sales associate. But it is possible to put the technology within reach that will come pretty close to the same effectiveness as adding a bunch of talented sales personnel.
The answer is the deployment of mini-kiosks throughout the store. Notice these aren’t just “price checkers” that hang on a pole and get used a few times a day, or full-blown kiosks that will break the bank and sit around displaying a blue screen half the time. These are versatile, multi-tasking devices that can be used by customers and store personnel alike, to make the shopping experience less frustrating, more efficient, and ultimately more enjoyable.
Here are just a few suggestions of what a mini-kiosk can do:
- Ok, yes it can be a price checker, so let’s just get that one out of the way. It’s a natural. Customer grabs a product without an item price label, they scan the UPC, and “poof” the price appears on the screen. But wait! Now what? Instead of going into some mind-numbing screen-saver mode, the mini-kiosk goes into a slide show mode, displaying bright colorful advertisements, seasonal promotions, or suggesting complementary products. It works all day and all night, and only stops to check a price when asked to.
- Getting ready to buy that toy for the niece, but want to purchase with a gift card? Not sure what the balance is? Swipe the gift card at the mini-kiosk and find out there’s $38.45 left. Just enough.
- See only one item on the shelf, but you really need two of those? Scan the item at the mini-kiosk and select “Stock Inquiry” to find out if there is more inventory in the store, or possibly even at another store.
- Here’s a classic. Standing in front of a row of bins at the home improvement center. Grab a nice looking widget from a bin marked $2.99. Great price! Get to the checkout stand, and the widget rings up $10.99. Not a great price! The widget was obviously removed from its original bin by another customer, and placed back in the wrong bin. It happens all the time in any setup where product is presented in “bulk”, like in bins or tubs, or even hung on peg board. It’s susceptible to being mixed up by constant customer fondling. Solution? Install a mini-kiosk displaying a message to encourage customers to verify their items before they throw them into the shopping cart. Scan that brass fitting?
The mini-kiosk displays the correct description and price, and then reminds the customer to buy the Teflon tape that will keep it from leaking!
- Nestle a mini-kiosk in a display of gift cards. Call it a price checker, but what it is really doing is constantly displaying promotions and messages encouraging the purchase of the gift cards. Ok, yes it can check a price when it needs to, but before and after, it’s tempting that customer to reach up and grab that cute blue card with the goofy birthday cake printed on it!
- Need to find out which windshield wiper fits a 2002 Ford F-150? Or the right tail light bulb for a 2006 Toyota Camry? Simply use the on-screen lookup feature of the mini-kiosk to find the right SKU # and where it’s located in the store. What service!
- Use mini-kiosks to allow the customer to research more information about the product they are buying, whether it’s a bottle of wine or a television or a piece of jewelry. Give them access to information they need to make a buying decision, right there in the store.
The use of mini-kiosks is really limited only by the imagination. Employees can use them for time & attendance terminals or to access store level information. Customers can scan loyalty cards to see their discounted price or scan a coupon and the mini-kiosk can tell them exactly what aisle that product is located on.
The best kept secret about mini-kiosks is the investment cost. In small volumes, the average price for a mini-kiosk with a decent feature set can be less than $1,000. Larger volumes can drive that price much lower.
However, in order to be completely fair, there are also costs associated with deploying the devices, such as connecting them to store networks and developing the application software, which is where all the magic really happens. But at the end of the day, the investment is likely proportional to the size of the store and the relevant customer traffic, and will always be far less than the investment in additional headcount, which is an ongoing, ever-increasing cost. A small fleet of mini-kiosks is a one-time investment. If properly deployed, they will be working every hour of every day the store is open, helping to maximize the effectiveness of the marketing dollars spent on getting those customers into the store.