Mega retailer/e-tailer Kohls is on target to deploy customer service kiosks to all its stores by this fall following successful testing and pilot kiosk programs held this year.
The kiosks will let store shoppers order any item not in stock and have it shipped to their home at no charge.
The goal is to boost the customer shopping experience, improve customer service and foster sales when consumers aren't able to find a specific product, or product size or color, in a retail location.
"We are very focused on implementing technology to improve the customer experience and provide excellent customer service, including the rollout of our new in-store kiosks," said Vicki Shamion, VP of public and community relations for Kohls.
Store shoppers can from an expanded assortment of items not available in the store, she added.
"We have tested these kiosks and have been very pleased with the results in the pilot stores," Shamion said.
The in-store, self-service e-commerce kiosks will be deployed to more than 1,000 stores in 49 states. Each features a "call box" shoppers can use for customer support if there are glitches with the order or transaction.
As of the end of January, Kohls had 1,058 store operations and recorded $17.2 billion in sales in 2009 and currently employs 133,000 sales associates. In comparison, in 1992, there were just 79 stores run by the Wisconsin-based company.
The new kiosk effort is part of the company's diverse multi-media broadcast, print, online and in store marketing and advertising effort. In 2009 Kohls spent $846 million for its promotional commerce efforts.
While Kohls declined to provide specific program goals or figures on consumer sales that are lost in retail locations due to a lack of inventory, one industry watcher says the kiosk program will prove valuable and should be applauded for its customer service effort.
"At a time when many retailers are licking their wounds from the economic downturn, it takes significant foresight and fortitude to launch a major technology initiative," writes David Weinfeld, principal of The Preset Group, a consulting partnership in the digital signage industry, in his blog Digital Signage Insights.
Weinfeld notes that Kohls is in the minority when it comes to retailers investing big capital in tech efforts where return-on-investment is not easy to predict or determine.
"The ROI is more grey than black and white. This is the reality facing digital signage companies far and wide. Retailers understand the benefits. They know that digital displays and self-service technologies will be integral to the future of their businesses. They, however, are unwilling to bear the risks that come with innovation. These retailers don't realize that by postponing technological advancement they are putting their futures at greater risk," he writes.
He adds the many retailers unwilling to accept marketplace changes and adapt with technology, like kiosks, will have trouble surviving. Yet he notes the Kohls effort could snap some into adopting such technologies.
"Forward-thinking retailers like Kohl's are the key to broader adoption of digital signage technologies. It takes a bold few to awaken the sleeping giants," he writes.