Comparison: Buying kiosks from the U.S. vs. China
One of the constants in the kiosk industry is customers and resellers who stack up a unit made in the U.S. to an "identical" model made in China. The fact that buying from the Far East comes with its own set of risks/dangers is often forgotten in the face of the "But it's half the price" argument. Over the years, I and others have compiled a variety of points to truly consider when choosing a supplier.   Why is buying kiosks from Far Eastern suppliers (Korea, Taiwan or China) or local manufacturers in your area a somewhat risky adventure?   As you know, the pricing for kiosks from the Far East and some local suppliers tends to be less costly than those built in Europe or the USA. There are several reasons for this.
  • Given that costs of a kiosk solution are 80 percent components and 20 percent enclosure, there is only one true way of reducing pricing for a kiosk solution — focus on the components, since they make up the majority of the cost.
  • While lower labor rates on kiosk assembly may contribute to some cost savings, they are really a very small part of the overall kiosk price structure. In focusing on components, one has to make a choice between better quality components that cost more or poorer quality components that cost less. There is no way around this conundrum. By offering pricing significantly lower than Western kiosk manufacturers (USA and Europe), it is clear that the Far Eastern manufacturers are offering poorer quality components.
  • Poor kiosk design techniques: Anyone can attempt to design a kiosk, but only someone with considerable experience in kiosk design can configure a kiosk in a manner where access to components for servicing and/or repair is easy and cost-effective. This approach to kiosk design, however, usually results in a more costly kiosk. One can reduce kiosk costs by cutting those corners and producing a very basic, but not very serviceable, unit. This is the approach often taken by those companies less skilled or experienced in quality kiosk design. Simply stated, Far Eastern or local manufacturers are, more often than not, novices at kiosk design, having been at it for only a couple years.
There are other factors worth considering in making a choice to deal with a Western, local or Far Eastern kiosk supplier. These are:
  • There is a distinct difference in how Far Eastern and some local manufacturers view  kiosk business than those in the Western world and in the Middle East.  In the West/Middle East, post-sale service and support is important and is an integral part of the overall business philosophy. This is not necessarily true when in comes to local and Far Eastern manufacturers/suppliers. The mindset of many local and Far East suppliers is to build it cheap and replace it when broken. Easier said than done when a kiosk breaks due to substandard components or poor design. When you call them, they want to know only one thing: When are you going to buy a replacement Kiosk or at best, a replacement part? There is relatively little interest in post-sales support. Don't believe  this?  Ever try to solve a problem with a Far Eastern kiosk supplier over the phone?  It is a frustrating experience to say the least.
  • Distance is also a problem: When a kiosk breaks and you are six to eight time zones away, it severely limits the time available in a business day to attempt those frustrating calls to the Far East.
  • Just how much experience does your Far Eastern or local kiosk supplier have?  As a general observation, the Far Eastern and local companies are just entering the kiosk market. Their design skills are not yet refined. Worse, their experience is short, and most have very few skills in designing custom or semi-custom kiosks.  Ever try to have a semi-custom kiosk designed and built for you with a company eight time zones away?  Ever attempt to convey unique component implications on a kiosk design when the designer has only one or, at best, two years experience with kiosk design? It is possible, but it is also painful.
  • Lastly, startup kiosk manufacturers get into and get out of the business far too frequently. In most years, there is a 30-percent turnover in kiosk manufacturers or folks who think of themselves as kiosk manufacturers. You will need support at some point after the sale. Will the company you select be in business when you need them?
So, all things are not always as they first appear.  What you need is a kiosk supplier that provides the following:
  • Local presence: Is the kiosk supplier in the same time zone or nearly in the same time zone as you?
  • Experience: Kiosk companies in the kiosk business for longer generally know more about kiosks, from design to components.
  • Flexibility: Pick a company that is flexible in their design capabilities so that they can meet your design needs quickly and cost-effectively.
  • Capacity: Pick a company that has the ability to deliver in any quantity without months  of ramp-up time.
  • Quality: A quality kiosk will give you years of trouble-free performance.  Kiosk downtime only hurts your business model.
  • Support after sale: Pick a company that has a commitment to post-sales support and the infrastructure to carry out that commitment.
If price is your only concern, then keep this in mind: If you want that low-cost kiosk and you want it bad ... then you will get it bad!
 
Craig Keefner is self-service channel manager for KIOSK Information Systems. This column orginally appeared on DigitalScreenMedia.org.

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