This article originally published in Self-Service World magazine, Oct 2007.
Some of the more inquisitive minds have tackled the area of self-service and have been hard at work developing distinctive machines and mechanisms to enhance the consumer experience. Over the past few years, the industry has produced pioneering multitouch touchscreens, biometric scanners and RFID devices.
Those devices, once confined to certain technologically advanced areas of the world, now are spreading far and wide, from the casinos of Las Vegas to the deserts of the United Arab Emirates to the malls of Australia. More than 1.4 million self-service kiosks are projected to be in service by 2008, an indication that self-service is in its prime, with a long life ahead.
Here's what some analysts, vendors and experts say is happening with self-service in their part of the world.
President, Summit Research Associates
Even with unique kiosks and touchscreens deployed across the globe, most of the popular and prolific self-service deployments — by sheer numbers — are in one area of the world.
"The reality is that much of what is going on is in North America," said Francie Mendelsohn, president of Summit Research Associates. "And by North America, I mean the United States."
North America is projected to have 998,000 kiosks by 2008, according to a Summit report.
Self-service to those in the United States "means that you are able to do a transaction, be it financial or informational or anything between that, by yourself," Mendelsohn said. Many of the popular devices are informational, but she said airport check-in kiosks are high on the list as well.
"I think airline check-in is more popular here than anywhere else," she said. "There are certainly more deployed here than anywhere else."
Many of the airline check-in kiosks and other popular devices are manufactured or powered by some of the largest self-service companies in the world. Those include NCR, IBM, KIOSK, Kodak, Nanonation, Netkey and St. Clair, Mendelsohn said.
Though self-service is at an all-time high, there are still some barriers to deployment in the United States. Not having buy-in from top management is a big one, she said.
"If they are hesitant about this or they think it's stupid, you have a really tough road ahead," she said. "When they get it and see that this is a great thing, they can help remove a lot of obstacles to getting it deployed."
Another issue is the quality of kiosk hardware. You get what you pay for, Mendelsohn said.
"You have got to go with a quality supplier for hardware, software and peripherals," she said. "If you do this cheaply, don't be surprised when it falls on its face."
As for customers, if they fail to embrace the technology, it's because they can't find it or it doesn't work, she said.
The biggest reason kiosks are deployed in the United States is to provide information and improve the bottom line, Mendelsohn said. Another reason, though she said it's not acknowledged by the industry, is to reduce employee numbers. This is evidenced by the airlines embracing check-in technology after 9/11.
"Check-in kiosks were a perfect solution for airlines after that," she said. "They could provide service and yet do it without the number of employees they had before."
With the future bright for self-service, businesses and companies need to take a serious look at what the customer wants and what they can provide with automation. But Mendelsohn offers a tip.
The best advice for future deployers in the United States, she said, is to prepare for failure. Power failures and other things outside of a company's control will occur. The company must have contingency plans to bring the kiosk back.
"If the kiosk doesn't work, particularly if it's the first time [a customer has tried to use it], you might have lost him forever," she said.
Phil Hunter Event director,
Self Service Expo Europe
In the past, the term "self-service" brought to mind vending machines for people across Europe, said Phil Hunter, event director for the Self Service Expo Europe trade show. Increasingly, people now are connecting self-service with automated technology.
With the growth of chip-and-pin retail transactions, consumers have seen a rise in a varied range of self-service offerings and a decline in vending practices.
"When we launched the show last year in London, we actually had 30 percent more attendees turn up than we were expecting," Hunter said. "I think that is a sign of just how much this market is growing over here."
He said self-service is now becoming a "bigger and bigger differentiator" for companies in Europe, especially in the retail sector.
"I believe that people nowadays expect more," he said. "Most of us are used to the ease and speed of transactions on the Internet and the larger choice of stock and convenience of doing something yourself from home. I think we take that expectation out with us when we go shopping. We are less tolerant of queues, we are less tolerant of sales assistants getting things wrong and we are less tolerant of items not being in stock.
"Basically, we know we can do all of this at home, but we like being out in a social environment and we want the same quick, fast, effective service there as well. That is what self-service technology gives us."
Europe has been an innovator of self-service technology, Hunter said. Companies such as ULTIMEDIA, NIT, Devlin, Rosenthal Concept Kiosks, Rittal and Custom Engineering are headquartered there.
The largest self-service deployment in Europe, Hunter said, is self-checkout kiosks at the supermarket chain Tesco. Other popular applications in Europe include airport check-in, wayfinders in shopping malls and photo kiosks, although retail transaction kiosks are the most popular.
One of the main goals of retail kiosks in Europe is to enable the retailer to try new ideas and to "satisfy the ever widening appetite for product variety," Hunter said.
Some barriers still keep self-service from universal acceptance in the United Kingdom. As in other parts of the world, perception, education and ROI are blocks to self-service. However, use of space is an even larger issue, he said.
The U.K. and many other areas in Europe suffer from the lack of commercial space and from the high cost of available space. Many centers of commerce, including airports, are dealing with space issues by moving outside of city boundaries.
"Getting the location right, educating clients on using precious space effectively for self-service and offering something the consumer can't get somewhere else are all vital considerations for deployers," Hunter said.
The Middle East
Hazem Adel Project manager,
Aptec Kiosk Services
In the Middle East — and, in particular, in the United Arab Emirates — interactive touchscreens, kiosks and other self-service devices have not caught on. But the region does have ATMs, said Hazem Adel, project manager for Aptec Kiosk Services, a company that sells, deploys and maintains kiosks in the Middle East and North Africa.
Apart from the occasional mobile top-up, bill payment or human resources kiosk, most of the automated self-service technology revolves around banking.
"Businesses have been prudent to make the investment so far," Adel said. "It's not yet in their budget, so to speak."
Businesses are deploying the technology now for customer service and convenience. But one reason businesses have yet to embrace the technology is that labor costs in the region are not that high, so ROI would be difficult to obtain. In addition, governments have not embraced large deployments and have not encouraged others to use self-service technology, Adel said.
He sees a need, though, for self-service in the future. Queuing has been a problem in more heavily populated countries such as Egypt. Language barriers and labor scarcity also have been an issue in the Persian Gulf states. Kiosks could help correct all of these issues.
Right now, the bank sector in the Middle East is controlled by NCR, Diebold and Wincor Nixdorf. KIOSK Information Systems is the leader in other areas. Some Indian and Chinese companies are involved as well, and they have an edge in price competitiveness, Adel said.
"Although people think of the Middle East as a super-wealthy region, it's still very price conscious," he said.
Adel said he thinks it will be another three to four years before the Middle East adopts a widespread use of self-service technology. He said that since deployment locations are so expensive, businesses now are very careful with how they deploy their machines.
"Everyone makes sure he gets it right from the start," Adel said.
Roger Price Channel director,
As in much of the world, self-service in New Zealand and the rest of the South Pacific reflects the patterns and habits of those in the United States and Europe. Interactive digital signage, kiosks and other self-service devices are located in airports, shopping centers, mobile phone stores, military installations and museums, said Roger Price, channel director for NextWindow, a designer and developer of optical touchscreens in New Zealand.
"With the costs of labor and floor space, plus the attractiveness of 24/7 availability, self-service is a growing trend [in the South Pacific]," Price said. "Complex products and large product catalogs really benefit from interactive self-service."
Currently in New Zealand, photo kiosks are the largest device deployed; however, the market is pretty saturated, he said. Information kiosks in retail and government environments along with directory and wayfinder kiosks are other popular deployments.
Just a short way from New Zealand, Global Mall Media has installed around 350 37- and 42-inch interactive touchscreens in malls across Australia. At Vodafone mobile phone stores, NextWindow's touchscreens are used for customers to select and compare phones, look at service packages and experience phone features. Large manufacturers such as Australia's Neo and Abuzz also have a large kiosk contingent in retail and public service locations.
In Australia, many of the 21 million people live in six or seven cities around the edge of the country. This prohibits widespread installation of kiosks, though adoption is strong in those cities.
NextWindow's goal for a wider embrace of self-service technology is to continue showing the benefits of large interactive touchscreens to customers, manufacturers and deployers. Many people still assume that only smaller 17-inch screens are available, Price said. Therefore, manufacturers only produce the smaller screens. With larger touchscreens in malls, customers are demanding that larger screens become the norm.
Though you don't hear much about self-service in New Zealand in other parts of the world, Price said that the industry is thriving. In fact, per head, the South Pacific region has as many self-service devices as the United States. And in the case of wayfinder and directory kiosks, the region has a better adoption rate.
"The key in New Zealand is to find a self-service application for sheep — there are 12 sheep to every New Zealander," Price said.
Many countries have yet to embrace a widespread adoption of self-service technology. There are self-service signs, though, in a few other parts of the world.
In Russia, self-service has experienced explosive growth, according to organizers of the Self- Service Exhibition in Moscow. By the middle of 2005, more than 42,000 transactional kiosks were operating in Russia. The organizers now say the country has more than 100,000 transactional kiosks. With a noticeable growth in Russia's retail, food, travel and entertainment sectors, organizers predict a 35-percent increase in purchases of kiosk hardware, software and integration services through 2008.
Asia, and China in particular, is predicted to grow substantially in the self-service market. According to a Summit report, this market lags behind only North America in terms of kiosks deployed.
African countries such as South Africa have plans to deploy thousands of voting machine kiosks in the upcoming years.
The future of self-service around the world looks positive.
"For most of the major players in the field, the difficult days of 2001-03 are very much a thing of the past," Summit's Mendelsohn said. "The horizon is very bright and almost limitless."