As retailers continue to bounce back from a weakened economy, their No. 1 goal is bettering the consumer experience to keep them buying. Most industry experts agree that the convergence of kiosk, tablet and mobile technologies is key to making that happen. In fact, they predict it as the year's top trend.
Other trends for the coming year should include these two:
- The erosion of DVD-rental and airport check-in kiosks
- The increase of vending machine kiosks.
Hamed Shahbazi, CEO of TIO Networks Corp., a multichannel expedited bill payment processor, said the trend to watch out for is all the new feature-rich, tablet-class devices that will enter the market this year and continue to drive consumer adoption.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to find something bigger than the rise of the tablet," he said. "The iPad is a game-changer in many ways."
Shahbazi expects 2011 to be a gold rush for app developers.
"I think it impacts everyone, including the kiosk industry, which will continue to have new access to low-cost, connected touch screen devices to embed in their solutions," he said.
Summit Research Associates president Francie Mendelsohn agreed, saying the best kiosk developers will find ways to leverage what people already have in their pockets.
"They are already factoring in iPhones and iPads," she said. "I don't think anybody could have predicted the success of the iPad, not even Apple."
Apple has already connected with the kiosk industry. New York's JFK and LaGuardia airports recently installed iPad-based kiosks to allow customers to place food orders, check flight details and play games.
And that's not all. Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office made public Apple's patent, "Social Networking in Shopping Environments." It describes how in-store kiosks would allow customers to access a product list and information on their phones and then share those details through Apple's social-networking tool.
"Apple has nibbled around the kiosk space for a long time," Mendelsohn said. "I think it's smart."
Apple declined to comment for this story.
Other companies are sure to follow, according to Ron Bowers of kiosk manufacturer Frank Mayer & Associates, who said kiosks allow the retail industry to engage shoppers.
"It's about helping the consumer to do what the consumer wants to do," said Bower, who is a frequent blogger on KioskMarketplace.com. "We will see technology becoming about the user experience and even more customizable."
Although most experts predict a huge growth in the mobile industry, Bowers said it won't replace kiosks. Instead, the mobile and kiosk industries will work together.
"The cross-channel opportunity is a really important part of what we have to strive for," he said. "It's the conversion of all those technologies that will help us engage the consumer. They get a positive experience, and they want to engage again. That's what real loyalty is."
Bowers cites the loyalty-membership kiosks his firm designed for Giant Food Stores as an example. The kiosks act as check-in portals for customers entering the stores and allow them to access coupons and discounts based on personal profiles created from their buying history.
"It allows the retailer to have a closer relationship with the consumer that is personalized and convenient," Bowers said.
Shoppers can not only access their accounts via store kiosks but also online or on their mobile phones.
"The kiosk is the focal point as it coordinates with the overall consumer experience and has extra services that aid the consumer experience in-store," Bowers said.
The kiosks are even personalized enough to allow shoppers to print coupons, recipes, ingredients and nutrition information. They can also access a way-finder, place orders for cakes, party trays and pre-order items for later pick-up.
Bowers expects loyalty-membership kiosks to be a hot trend with retailers this year.
"It's all designed to create a positive, engaging experience for the customer in the retailer's store," he said. "The best experience is one that is seamless across channels, yet engaging while in the store."
Are kiosks an endangered species?
Kiosks will be coming and going throughout 2011, said Mendelsohn: "We've already begun seeing some erosion, and that will continue into 2011."
Those industry phase-outs include check-in machines at airports and DVD-rental kiosks.
"They both are reaching saturation," Mendelsohn said. "More and more people are loading boarding passes on their phones, so those kiosks won't be needed. And more people are renting movies through streaming."
Mendelsohn said companies such as Redbox are already looking for new uses for their machines and expects new deployments to decrease.
"Watch what happens there this year," she said. "They will be replacing existing units, and we'll see minor upgrades or tweaks. But there will be no radical surgeries."
No, they're on the rise
However, the kiosk industry is far from fading away, Mendelsohn said. In fact, the public is more accepting than ever of self-service machines.
"The days of people being scared to use them or thinking they're too complicated are pretty much gone, but some of the same issues will always be there," she said. "They have to be easy to use, they gotta be intuitive and they always gotta work."
As the usage of airport check-in and DVD kiosks slows, Mendelsohn expects other industries to increase the deployment of machines. For example, she predicts an increase in the number of vending kiosks selling small electronics, including iPods or Rosetta Stone language programs.
"Those (kiosks) are expensive, but they make sense in places like airports, where you already have a captive audience," she said. "The (language programs) are an expensive sale, and a kiosk lends itself to that beautifully because you can sample the lesson right there. It shows you exactly what you are buying and you don't need humans to stand there eight hours a day."