Tuesday, November 29, 2005

McDonald's DVD kiosks drive sales

I think I've written about the DVD rental kiosks that they've been trialing in a number of midwest and Rocky Mountain McDonald's franchises over the past few months, but apparently RedBox is expanding into selling the disks directly through their interactive kiosks. One interesting merchandising hook is described in an article in Video Business Online, where a DVD -- in this case, commemorating a local baseball stadium -- is sold exclusively through the kiosk:
Busch Stadium, self-distributed by Major League Baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals, will be exclusively available at McDonald’s Redbox machines in the St. Louis, Mo., market until Dec. 20. Priced at $17.99, the sports documentary chronicles the historic sports field, which will be replaced with a new ballpark in the spring.

Hart Sharp Video will distribute the title to video retailers starting Dec. 20, similarly limited to the St. Louis market.

Redbox machines have been installed in 800 U.S. locations. Besides St. Louis, other McDonald’s Redbox markets are Minnesota, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, Denver and Houston.

McDonald’s hasn’t disclosed how Redbox is contributing to its overall store revenue. Sources say adding a machine has nudged up total sales by about 5% at some McDonald’s locations (VB, 7-28).

But Waring did note that McDonald’s is pleased by the fact that the machines are luring in activity that they otherwise might not have enjoyed.
You can read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

New polling system helps voters with disabilities

The Boston Globe reports that self-service kiosk technology is actually improving the voter experience for a number of the disabled.

Voting machines designed to accommodate the needs of blind and other disabled voters were tested in Watertown, Waltham, and Woburn, part of an effort to find a system that will be used statewide as Massachusetts tries to comply with federal legislation mandating equal treatment for voters with disabilities.

The 2002 Help America Vote Act requires all states and jurisdictions to have accessible equipment by Jan. 1, 2006.

The Waterton area actually tested three different types of electronic voting kiosk, each of which utilizes a number of different methods (e.g. touchscreen, audio announce, sip/puff controls) to ensure the greatest number of disabled Americans have complete control over the voting process.

The full article is here.

Diebold introduces self-service coin counting solution

According to a recent press release, Diebold has introduced a self-service coin counting device to help cash in (no pun intended -- honest) on the estimated $10 billion in loose change floating around in the pockets, jars, boxes and under the sofas.
CoinCount enables financial institutions to expand their service offerings to provide customers and members with convenient, fast access to coin-counting services right inside the branch. Tom Swidarski, Diebold's president and chief operating officer, said the solution was developed to help financial institutions draw consumers to the branch.

CoinCount offers financial institutions opportunities for customer/member recruitment and retention and improved productivity. By using CoinCount to help attract consumers to the branch, financial institutions can cross-sell other branch products and services, generate new revenue through transaction fees and provide another avenue for branding and marketing. of US consumers.

CoinCount can improve productivity by minimizing the need for branch personnel to handle, count or sort coin. Its advanced hopper cleaning system helps ensure that branch personnel will not be taken out of service to retrieve consumer items that may be inadvertently deposited with coin. The system separates coin from debris such as jewelry, paper clips and other items that often mingle with loose coin. Non-coin items are returned to the customer through a pocket in the front of the unit.
Find out all about it here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Self-service making its way into fast food

As WFAA in Dallas/Ft. Worth tells us,

Ending years of flirtation, the fast-food industry finally appears ready to take the plunge into self-service ordering with kiosks, some restaurant technology experts say.

Taking a page from banks and airlines, major chains including McDonald's, Burger King and Subway are field-testing machines that allow consumers to order and pay for their meals without any human contact.

None of the companies has announced a systemwide launch. Still, experts say the growing use of self-service at the grocer and the gas pump has chains thinking more seriously of joining the do-it-yourself generation.

I've yet to see a truly compelling demonstration of self-service ordering in a fast food restaurant, but that might be becuase I generally avoid them during lunchtime, when lines are the longest, and thus (presumably) the self-service machines would have the greatest impact. The article cites rising healthcare costs, staffing problems and efficiency issues as the primary drivers for looking at kiosk technology, but the lack of a strong commitment by any of the major fast food companies leaves me wondering whether this is ready for prime-time yet.

Kiosks cited as way to improve customer service and satisfaction

CIO-Today is running an article on the technologies in use online and off- to improve the customer shopping experience, and of course interactive kiosks make an appearance as a timesaver and convenience for customers on-the-go:

Another valuable component to e-commerce is customer service. Big retailers are exploring in-store kiosks as a way to meet the expectations that their newly informed online customers bring into the store.

"When the customer enters the store with more complex questions, the retailer must be ready to fulfill those online expectations, so there's a new pressure," [Tamara Mendelsohn, consumer markets analyst at Forrester Research] said. "The sales rep can do research with the consumer at the kiosk, or use a handheld device" to access additional content while out on the floor, she said.

"If a customer walks into the store and needs a new printer cartridge, the consumer oftentimes can't remember which printer they have," noted [AMR Research senior retail analyst Rob Garf]. "But a kiosk can store their purchase history, and the customer can look it up at the kiosk to see what exactly they need."

In a macro sense, e-commerce technology is heading into full integration Latest News about integration with other sales channels so that retailers can have a comprehensive view of the customer, no matter how they shop.

"There's going to be more real-time integration, which is as much of a process issue as it is a technology issue," Garf said. "Store managers also will be spending more time educating their personnel about the many policies and procedures in play for the different channels so that the retail workers understand them."

You can find the full article here, which touches on a number of other technologies including e-commerce systems, electronic shoping carts (the web variety), and analytics packages.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Source Technologies' concourse(TM) Bill Pay Kiosk Wins `Best Financial Kiosk'

Yahoo is carrying this press release from Source Technologies. Apparently, they're quite pleased that they won awards from Kiosk Magazine this year :)
Source Technologies' concourse(TM) Bill Pay Kiosk has won both the 2005 Kiosk Award for Best Financial Kiosk as well as the 2005 Kiosk Magazine Readers Choice Award. The honors were delivered at the Self-Service & Kiosk Show, held in San Francisco Oct. 17-18, sponsored by NetWorld Alliance media Kiosk magazine, KioskMarketplace.com and SelfServiceWorld.com.

The Source Technologies' Bill Pay Kiosk enables customers to pay bills without waiting for assistance from a customer service representative. The users are identified at the kiosk through a barcode on their individual statement or by their account number, and are guided through their transactions step by step. The kiosks accept all forms of payment, including cash, check, debit and credit, providing the user with an efficient and convenient bill payment option. Businesses and financial institutions that employ these kiosks are able to redirect staff resources that would otherwise be devoted to payment processing and customer service.

Touch screen voting debuts in Ohio

Two years after Miami, FL started using touchscreen kiosk technology to hasten voting, the same technology has made it to Miami, OH, according to this article:
Many votes lined up early and plowed through rain to cast their ballot. Many of those who voted early on Tuesday said they had an overwhelmingly postive experience using the new touch screen voting machines.One voter said she was in and out in about a minute. Another oter said he thought the voting process was simpler and improved.The new touch-screens have been planned for Ohio since the disputed presidential election of 2000.Some people who voted said they did encounter some difficulties. One voter said he had to recast his ballot two or three times.The two candidates for Dayton mayor, Rhine McLin and David Bohardt, reported liking the electronic voting.Most voters said they are glad that the age of the punch-card ballot is over and they are ready to move forward.
In all, the technology seems to be maturing, and will likely be in more widespread use for next year's midterm elections.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Not all are happy with self-service check-in kiosks

At ZDNet, John Carroll publishes this (sometimes unintentionally) funny article about his trials and tribulations with airline check-in kiosks. Apparently he has run into a few problems since he shares a name with somebody on a DHS blacklist, and thus gets singled out for security screenings more often than he would like. As he notes:
One of the reasons airlines like self-check in kiosks is that it enables staff reductions at check-in desks. In today's cost-conscious airline industry, that matters, and I can hardly blame airlines for wanting to do that.

Unfortunately, most airlines have been a bit overly aggressive when it comes to reducing staff for check-ins. I've seen 20 check-in kiosks that had perhaps two human beings to handle all the human interaction requirements. That's not nearly enough, and that was the main reason I missed my flight this past Sunday.

Read the rest of the article to learn about some of the potential dangers of relying on technology too much :)

Arby’s owner uses automated menu ordering

The East Valley Tribune is reporting that several Arby's restaurants are trialing order-taking self-service kiosks. Similar trials are undersay at various McDonald's and Subway franchises (among others, I'm sure), but none have yet gotten a corporate mandate to be deployed across an entire chain of restaurants:
"The average person gets about 22 minutes for a lunch break from the time they leave the office to the time they get back." [Jay Johnson, director of operations for Scottsdalebased Fx4, which owns 47 Arby’s in Arizona] said, "If they walk into a restaurant and see a huge line, they’re going to go somewhere else. We want to get people in and out as soon as possible without losing friendliness."

Johnson said the shorter lines will encourage more customers to stay, which will eventually increase sales and produce higher revenue. Because the machines have only been in use for a month or so, however, it is too soon to tell whether they are financially benefiting the restaurants.

For the customers who have never used them, an Arby’s employee stands near the order station to answer any questions. Employees still stand at a register to take orders the standard way if customers prefer.

The machines feature a "modify" button for special orders, in case a customer wants extra lettuce or no mayonnaise.

The customer pays at the machine itself, either with a debit or credit card or cash. The cash feature is able to sort out a stack of bills, so the customer doesn’t have to insert them one at a time. Johnson said Fx4 first saw the technology at a trade show but it is not their intention for the touch-screen systems to replace counter personnel.
Read the complete report here.

Giant experiments with grocery store of the future

As Kiosk Marketplace reports, Giant Food Stores is partnering with Agilysys Inc., St. Clair Interactive Communications Inc., IBM Corp. and Symbol Technologies to build a new 90,000+ square foot grocery store featuring the latest in self-service innovations, including interactive kiosks, personal shopping scanners, and digital signs.

I've yet to see a personal shopping system that I've been impressed with (remember the ZapLink anybody? And what's going on with IBM's Shopping Buddy?), however I'm still hopeful that one of these days somebody will come up with a solution that is both easy-to-use and provides a real value to the consumer. Here's what they have to say about this iteration of the product:
A customer entering the store scans their loyalty card, then picks up one of the handheld units and begins shopping, scanning items as they place them directly into bags in the cart.

"'The idea is that at the point in time that you pick up a product, you scan it with that personal shopper and bag it in the cart,' [Agilysys Director of Sales Aaron] Hagler said. 'The next time you’re supposed to touch that item is literally when you get home.'
Efficiencies in self-checkout might be enough to convince the average shopper, but only time will tell.

Read the full article here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

6 Simple Rules for Successful Self-Service

CIO.com.au Australia's magazine for information executives, is running this article about how to prevent your self-service kiosk project from becoming one of the estimated 15-20% that are doomed to fail :) The six simple rules that they outline include:
  • Provide a Benefit to Customers
  • Make Transactions Intuitive
  • Show Customers What to Do
  • Choose the Right Locations
  • Beware of Legacy Systems
  • Take a Test-Drive

Nothing revolutionary here, and it's certainly not a how-to, but the article does make some excellent points about the shortcomings of many of today's self-service projects. One thing I particularly liked was this list of things to make your kiosk pretty and easy-to-use, courtesy of Francie Mendelsohn, from Summit Research:

  • Big buttons. Small touch-screen buttons will foil large fingers.
  • Feedback. When you touch a button onscreen, it should "depress" and change colour.
  • Readability. Dark text on a light background is the most legible.
  • Consistency. Give every touch screen the same look and feel. Even slight deviations can confuse users. Speed. Have enough bandwidth so that users don't have to wait for transactions to be processed.
  • Cleanliness. Choose dark-collared kiosk cabinets to hide finger smudges, or use enclosures made of fingerprint-resistant materials.
  • Short screens. Customers prefer not to scroll. Clear directions and unambiguous choices. Remember that people are standing up. If it's confusing, they'll walk away.
  • Minimal animation. Fancy flashing lights and movement will slow down transactions and annoy customers.
  • No annoying sounds. Employees will pull the plug.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

KIS to open European kiosk manufacturing facility

From PRNewswire:
Kiosk Information Systems, the leader in self-service kiosk solutions announces the opening of manufacturing facilities in the U.K. Peter Snyder has been appointed Managing Director for the new operations based in Scotland. Snyder will be responsible for establishing and expanding new opportunities within existing and new market segments for Kiosk Information Systems - Europe.

"We currently have a very strong business segment outside the U.S. and with the addition of manufacturing, service and support here in Europe, we expect to accelerate our business in key sectors such as digital media, airlines, gaming and financial services," said Snyder.

Tom Weaver, VP of Sales and Marketing commented, "With the addition of Peter in Europe and our new manufacturing capabilities, we will be able to not only better serve our current customers but also be in position to take advantage of opportunities that exist in the U.K., as well as across all of Europe and the Middle East."
You can find the full release here.

Musicland trying out CD-burning kiosks

I know for a fact that Musicland Group -- owners of Sam Goody, MediaPlay and Suncoast -- have been warily eyeing the CD-burning kiosk market for a while now. Worried about eroding their sales of regular CDs, these devices were largely seen as a costly, complex hassle. However, with the recent success of things like Apple's iTunes, retailers realize that they're going to have to start taking steps to keep people coming into their stores. Thus, Musicland is going to start installed CD-burning machines into many of their stores across the country. As the Modesto Bee notes:

The Minneapolis-based chain includes Sam Goody and Suncoast stores. Willey said more than 20 stores will get stations by year's end at hefty cost of $25,000 each.

The systems are so expensive because of record labels' copyright protections and quality-control restrictions on how the music is stored and burned. Most labels require super-premium blank CDs costing five times the price of a basic blank disc.

Still, more than a dozen small companies have developed CD-burning kiosks.

"It is turning the corner from something that's planned to something that's real," said Bob French, maker of the Mix & Burn technology being used by Musicland. French believes the future is in tossing CD burners and letting customers download songs directly to MP3 players.

But analysts and many other retailers are skeptical.

"There's still too many issues that have got to be solved from an industry perspective, to (get to) where customers can easily access content without having to jump through hoops," said Dave Alder, top marketing officer for Virgin Entertainment Group in North America. "It has to be intuitive, it has to be fun and simple.… The industry isn't ready yet."

You can read the rest of the article here.

Internet and wireless kiosks strong in hospitality

I've never particularly liked the pay-per-use Internet kiosk market, and despite all of the late-night infomercial hype about the space, it's something I've always tried to keep my business away from (with little argument from the staff :) However, apparently it is a profitably niche for some dedicated companies, especially with bundled with the ability to meter out wireless internet connectivity, as Wi-Fi Planet reports:

In the hotly contested hotel space, Wi-Fi vendors are looking beyond the lobby, bar and meeting rooms. They're pitching full-building solutions as an alternative to costly high-speed rewiring jobs, and the idea is gaining traction.

Take, for instance, PayKiosks Internet Terminals. Founded in 2000, the company stayed true to its name for a long time, building up a base of some 300 installed Wi-Fi kiosks in 300 hotels and truckstops. Users pay the typical rates: $4.95 an hour, $8.95 a day and $29.95 a month.

PayKiosks deploys its networks for free on a revenue-sharing basis. McInnes says laptop use is so high these days that he can make the free installations pay even in smaller hotels. "Anything over 100 rooms is definitely a viable location for us," he says. "We have lots of smaller properties that generate several thousand dollars a month in wireless usage."
So there you have it. There's a very nice article with lots of additional information here that you should go read if you're involved in the self-service kiosk or pay-for-use kiosk markets.

Coinstar announces deal with WalMart

Coinstar said that it will install 100 of its self-service coin-counting kiosks in Wal-Mart stores on a test basis in the coming months. While they don't yet have a long-term agreement from the retail giant, shares gained $4.24 to close at $23.47 after the announcement. Seems as though Coinstar's stockholders would really, really like Coinstar to start deploying kiosks to Wal-Mart's 3,000+ US locations.

This quarter the company earned $6.8 million, or 27 cents a share, on sales of $118.7 million, for the third quarter. Excluding items, the company would have earned 30 cents a share. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call expected earnings of 28 cents a share on sales of $117 million. A year earlier, Coinstar earned $6.6 million, or 30 cents a share, on sales of $106.4 million," as reported here.

Check-in kiosks continue to gain popularity

Indianapolis airport is undergoing a series of upgrades and additions right now, and as 9news Indianapolis reports, some of those include replacing more check-in counters with interactive kiosks:
When the new passenger terminal at Indianapolis airport opens in 2008, the front lobby will have more room for self-serve ticketing kiosks - and much less space for traditional ticket counters.

Though construction on the $1.1 billion project already has begun, planners are making late design changes to the ticketing hall to accommodate the emergence of the electronic kiosks. Instead of having long walls of counter space, the new terminal will contain four ticketing "islands" in the center of the 150,000-square-foot ticket hall, project director John Kish said.

Initially designed to hold 96 ticket agents, those islands now will feature mostly electronic kiosks, perhaps as many as 150. It remains unclear what the ratio of ticket agents to kiosks will be.

Cited as both a cost-saving and customer service measure (as some carriers including Continental estimate that up to 85% of their passengers check in via kiosks), the airport says that customers are -- perhaps for once -- not upset by changes that reduce the amount of human contact. I don't know about you, but when I get to the airport, I want to get the ticketing/security/check-in process done as quickly as possible, and 95% of the time, I can get everything done quickly and easily at a kiosk. You can't beat that kind of convenience, and it's a welcome improvement at harried and con

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

More on interactive taxi kiosks

KioskMarketplace is running this article about a new interactive kiosk application in taxis in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, (and supposedly soon in Charlotte and New York City). I've written or posted about a number of articles in the past featuring all sorts of new and unique taxi kiosk or signage applications, and unfortunately most have not worked out very well from a financial standpoint.
Passengers interact with the kiosk via a touchscreen to retrieve up-to-the minute local and national news, sports, weather, local area information and more. A scrolling ticker keeps riders abreast of stock market activity.

"The kiosks are informational and entertaining," said Cory Gottlieb, chief executive officer of Interactive Taxi. "Passengers can use a Yellow Pages-like directory to search for restaurants, nightclubs, movie listings, area attractions, and city resources for free. The systems also are hooked up to the Office of Emergency Management and the Amber Alert System."
Revenue comes from the "advertorial" information supplied by vendors who wish to be listed on the kiosks. The model seems sound enough, and I have to admit that having ridden in a number of cabs staffed by non-English speakers, they certainly could prove useful for providing local information about restaurants, etc., history suggests that these devices will be met with much critical response -- good and bad. In the end, like everything else, the market will decide :)

Finland's Rautakirja integrates new POS and self-service kiosk systems

According to this press release on BusinessWire:
"Retalix(R) Ltd. announced today that Rautakirja, the leading convenience chain in Finland, has selected the Retalix StorePoint(TM) Point of Sale solution and the Retalix Head Office solution, aiming to enhance customer service and to enable sales of new types of products in its R-Kioski stores.

"Rautakirja is the leading convenience chain in Finland, operating approximately 750 kiosks and convenience stores in Finland, with global operations in the Baltics, Czech Republic, Russia, Romania and Germany. Rautakirja plans to install the Retalix solution throughout its Baltic chains.

"The rollout of Retalix StorePoint to the R-Kioski kiosks is in process, and is scheduled to be completed by mid-2006. The Rautakirja project is delivered, implemented and supported by Capgemini in Finland.

"Retalix StorePoint will enable Rautakirja to sell new types of products and electronic services, such as train tickets and loading prepaid phone cards, through POS interfaces with external third party applications. Interfaces for lottery terminals, local travel ticketing, phone card sales and video rental applications have already been implemented."