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By Ron Bowers
Self-service at retail caters to the merger of online and brick-and-mortar experiences that will help keep the store the focus of the next generation shopper's journey. While many readers are working to update a retail roadmap that acknowledges a multipronged path to purchase, those of us who are in the business of developing self-service solutions have been facilitating that for a while. We're energized by the fact that we are constantly adding more tools to our arsenal.
The definition of self-service is broadening. The emergence of mobile technology has expanded what it means to offer self-service for the connected consumer.
The look and feel of self-service has evolved as kiosk developers have advanced their designs to include touchscreens and digital signage. Cutting-edge technologies like gesture-based interaction and augmented reality can add new dimensions.
Two key insights we can draw on the future of self-service at retail from the many projects we've managed at Frank Mayer and Associates are:
1) Success comes where the technology of what's possible intersects with the expectations of what's desirable on the part of consumers.
2) There is an emerging segment of shoppers who are emboldened by their online activities, and this is shaping their preferences in store.
The solutions we present must be both intuitive for a digitally minded set of consumers who seek consistency in their experiences and mindful that shopping is becoming a more personally-directed endeavor. Sixty-eight percent of those participating in a 2013 study by Latitude Research acknowledged that shopping today is "less about the brands/products themselves and more about me (e.g., what I'm feeling or needing)."
As retailers move to adapt to these insights there is a balancing act to both catching and retaining customers. Self-service technology caters to both of these objectives.
A major self-service at retail theme we are seeing is enabling shoppers to explore and access the breadth of what the store has to offer. These are services that keep people in the store.
Self-service shopping kiosks come in all sizes from large floor-standing, endless-aisle designs incorporating digital signage, to tablet counter-units. Now a number of retailers are rolling out category-specific solutions that expose shoppers to the full spectrum of inventory.
Consumer behavior is driving the inclusion of bar code scanners in self-service solutions to activate access to the ratings and reviews that consumers demand and complementary items that retailers would like to promote.
Service-oriented kiosks like gift registries have been around for a while, but retailers are becoming more creative in how they use them with options for mobile connection.
A second self-service theme involves offering experiences that draw customers to the store. Self-service offerings can solidify the store as a destination in the minds of consumers and even encourage repeat visits.
Some big box retailers and pharmacies are recognizing the value of self-service health assessment like that offered by the SoloHealth Station as a strategy for increasing footfall and sales. The value of certain types of screening like weight and blood pressure is repetition, which plays right into traffic-building and loyalty-building objectives. Interactive, self-service kiosks are ideally suited to deliver targeted messages about brands in the store that are relevant to the assessments individuals are doing and can promote incremental sales.
Consumers first encountered mobile charging kiosks like the Keo Connect charging and information kiosk in airports. There's a realization that phone charging in today's world of battery-draining content consumption can be a real draw in most any retail setting.
Retailers should also continue to think about the traffic-building aspects of providing access to commonly used services. One of the early examples of this concept was self-service photo kiosks like the one we produced for Sony. More recently we designed and produced a DMV in a Box kiosk for Intellectual Technology Inc. that was placed in motor vehicle branches, but it is not a stretch to think of partnerships that would place other kinds of services in the retail environment.
Consumers form relationships with retailers that meet their needs and expectations in the consistent and satisfying way that self-service solutions can. They are also drawn to retailers who offer new, engaging-experiences and ways to assist with tasks. Retailers whose blueprints include self-directed experiences will catch and retain a new segment of digitally driven shoppers.
Ron Bowers is an SVP of business development at Frank Mayer and Associates.
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