Kiosks vs. Mobile

by Cherryh Butler

Predictions and rumors are running rampant about whether retailers will combine kiosk and mobile technology to serve consumers or if mobile will simply replace kiosks.

“This was the year retailers’ attitudes turned against the kiosk,” wrote Troy Carroll last week, the CEO of Intava, a provider of interactive retail technology. “Without exception, every retailer I spoke to about traditional kiosks this year met the topic with frowning brows, shaking heads or statements that kiosks simply aren’t that interesting. In other words, retailers have moved on.”

The numbers don’t lie

According to the Digital Screenmedia Association’s report, “2011 Self-service Future Trends,” more than 75 percent of respondents said that self-service is important, very important or critical to their business plans, while a little more than 6 percent said self-service was not important at all.

Although those numbers look favorable for kiosks, they actually demonstrate a decline in self-service programs compared to a similar survey published in 2007.

The study results also showed that two-thirds of respondents said their firms will spend more money on self-service related technology in the next 12 months, and more than 86 percent said their companies will spend more on the technology in the next five years.

Again, these numbers seem positive until you go back to the 2007 study that reported higher percentages in all categories. So, do these declines mean kiosks are on their deathbeds?

“I would lay wager that time will prove that to be an incorrect prediction,” said Don Lineburg, vice president of business and operations at Phoenix Kiosk. “Sages and gurus have had a good history of being wrong guessing how technology would impact various parts of our life.”

Kiosks and mobile technologies to integrate

Other industry experts agree with Lineburg, predicting that retailers will combine kiosk and mobile technology to provide consumers with top-notch retail experiences.

“I see kiosks, digital signage and mobile technology as a tour de force that will magnify the engagement and loyalty for the retailers while saving costs and giving the consumer a better experience at retail,” said Ron Bower, senior vice president of business development at Frank Mayer & Associates.

Michael Webster, vice president and general manager of retail and hospitality at NCR Corp., said he sees no competition between kiosks and mobile.

“We believe that mobile and kiosk, and the broader self-service channels, are all complementary,” he said in the DSA report. “Being able to begin a transaction on a mobile device but conclude that transaction in the physical channel is absolutely critical to the journey that we’re on. I can begin my ATM withdrawal, for example, on my mobile device, but I have to come to a self-service channel (in this case the ATM) to actually have the cash dispensed.”

The DSA study reported that industry leaders see retail as the primary beneficiary of self-service efforts in the next five years. About 35 percent of respondents are considering kiosk applications, including loyalty, couponing, discounts, wayfinding and self-checkout at supermarkets.

About 18 percent cited banking as a major beneficiary, and 13 percent think restaurants will see more self-service applications.

Air travel kiosks declining

However, air travel is one industry where kiosk usage may be declining because of smartphone technology. The DSA report found that nearly half the respondents said travelers would switch from kiosk check-in to smartphones check-in. And only 7 percent of respondents planned to deploy new kiosks in airports.

Although those numbers seem like bad news for the kiosk industry, Ken Bostic, managing director of customer experience at United Airlines, said he expects airports to utilize kiosks even as mobile’s popularity increases.

“Mobile is growing quickly; we probably won’t need as many kiosks in the future as we have today,” he said. “We might repurpose some of those kiosks to provide other services and perhaps what you can get on your phone, so we continue to look at that as a strategy. But really, the whole idea is to give time back to our customers and more choice and control in their travel day through these different channels and self-service.”

Retailers still embracing kiosks

The DSA report proved that retailers aren’t giving up on kiosks anytime soon. Nearly two-thirds of study participants said they use self-service programs to offer customers better or more convenient service, and nearly 70 percent called kiosks more efficient. And half of the respondents said self-service applications helped their bottom lines.

Francie Mendelsohn, president of Summit Research Associates, told study authors that she doesn’t predict mobile to be the demise of the kiosk, but she expects self-service companies to combine the technologies.

“You need to be realistic and look five years out,” she said in the DSA report. “It’s going to be a very different landscape. They need to have applications that make sense. Just to say, ‘We offer mobile,’ “Well, what’s that going to do for me? What mobile app can I use?’ So if you can leverage what you’ve already done on the kiosk and be able to use it on a mobile device, that would be great.”

For example, Mendelsohn said consumers would probably like to rent a Redbox DVD via phones and then pick them up at kiosks.

Cherryh Butler is editor of a leading source of news about the kiosk industry worldwide, offering a broad spectrum of breaking information and commentary.