Please place your items in the bagging area. We’ve all heard that automated voice at the self-service checkout station before. These self-service technologies (SST) allow customers to complete services independent of direct service employees. As this technology progresses and is adopted in more industries and locations, it’s important to examine how companies can utilize these technologies for maximum return.
Rise Of The SST Kiosk
Over the past several years, the usage of SST has heavily expanded, especially in the supermarket space. While the installation of self-checkout was minimal at first, today some stores have more active terminals than they do traditionally manned checkout lines. In stores like Kroger, you might see three to four self-checkout stations with customers and only two to three active cash registers available, or sometimes in late night hours no cashiers at all.
SST is also on the rise in retailers such as Target and Walmart, allowing customers to be more self-sufficient purchasers, with only one associate present to help shoppers for unique circumstances or questions. Retailers are also looking to expand kiosk options to allow customers to complete their own returns, giving the kiosk experience a full-service twist.
Just four to five years ago, stores were still hesitant to install kiosks with SST capabilities, as there were concerns about investing in the kiosks as well as accommodating the cash or check component that had the potential to be both challenging and costly.
Over time, however, retailers realized they didn’t need a full cash and credit payment option to have successful SST stations. Most shoppers nowadays are paying with cards, and those who use cash make up a smaller percentage of overall purchasers. Additionally, the machines have become easier to maintain and can provide customers with different experiences, depending on the retailer.
For example, some department stores are looking to see if SST makes sense for their shoppers. Stores that provide additional service offerings, such as credit card and loyalty programs, might choose to implement a kiosk station where users would be able to check their balance or make a payment right in the store.
Innovators such as FaceCake and its virtual dressing room might be a good fit as well. Imagine shoppers being able to check an “endless aisle” for just the right product, out-of-stock items or products in different sizes. Purchases could take place right at a dressing room entrance kiosk, with the option to buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) or to be shipped to a home address.
SST should enhance customer service, making the shopping experience more convenient and providing helpful solutions. With the goal to be customer-oriented, SST should also be incorporated in a very thoughtful way. Some retailers are looking for the kiosk to perform all tasks and have invested a lot of time developing solutions to try to create the perfect kiosk, when in reality there are limitations; some of them at the very least involving time and budget.
Customer needs change, technology advances and the current solution might not be relevant in two to three years. What retailers need to accept is that changes are inevitable. Multiple iterations should be expected, and testing a simplified version might be the best course of action.
Self-service kiosk should be quick and easy to use; customers need to be able to transact without any assistance. Kiosks shouldn’t be complicated or have too many options. For example, retailers might just want to enable a couple of features, such as self-checkout or discount rewards status. These two options, presented clearly on screen, will then guide users to the correct service path. In Kroger’s case, it may want to offer self-checkout or fuel points balance. Limiting the application without overcomplicating the interface is one key to success.
Another key item to consider is the location of the kiosk. In real estate, it’s all about location — the same is true for SST stations. Some retailers without proper planning end up deploying kiosks in awkward and tucked-away spots. Why? In this case, customers can’t find the kiosks, are unable to utilize them and become frustrated, leading them to seek out the assistance of a team member — which is counterproductive to the purpose of an SST.
Retailers should take time to figure out in-store traffic patterns to see where customers go to look for help. Perhaps the kiosk is best located near a register station, outside the customer service offices or next to the dressing rooms. Wherever it may be, retailers should do the research needed to make the machines accessible and create a space that allows for the comfortable usage of the stations.
Finally, self-service does not always mean completely unattended. Retailers should take a page from supermarkets and airline check-in counters. Having an attendant in a 10:1 or even 20:1 customer to associate deployment ratio may be necessary to optimize the customer experience. By reallocating resources and moving one of those associates to the SST area to assist with any questions, stores require less personnel, increasing store efficiency. While there are many SST stations with lots of checkouts happening at once, there is always still someone there to answer questions and help when needed.
SST In The Future
The bottom line — SST technologies are a way to enhance the customer experience, which should always be the goal. Because of this trajectory, we’ll start to see more frictionless technology integrated into kiosks. This means that kiosks might start using data from other devices, such as apps or web sites, to access customer accounts and create a more seamless experience. Cameras and biometric devices could also be incorporated to capture customer analytics. Integrated digital signage or quick question prompts might help retailers learn more about their customers and their buying habits. More marketing opportunities might also present themselves, giving stores an opportunity to upsell or capture DOOH advertising revenue. Finally, SST provides the front line for AI applications in retail. As we concentrate more on personalizing the customer experience, collect data and refine machine learning, the possibilities for SST with AI could be endless.
One thing is for certain — SST continues to be on the rise. As more retailers adopt this technology, customers will start to expect an easy and seamless experience from kiosk stations, seeking convenience and services. The retailer that gets it right will most certainly reap the benefits.
Edward Roberto is the Vertical Sales Manager for Retail and iCity Solutions at Advantech. Over the last eight years through custom kiosk development and manufacturing, Roberto has helped companies in retail, service, cybersecurity and the finance industry deploy self-service solutions to effectively scale their operations.