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Recently, an opinion piece in Retail Customer Experience served up a discussion about the future of kiosks in the face of increased mobile adoption. There has been a volley of opinions on the future of kiosks. Well, after being at the National Retail Federation Show, I’m reminded of the quote about the “Rumor of my Demise has been greatly exaggerated!” I can say with confidence that kiosks continue to have a major functionality at retail, in healthcare and in the service sectors. The convergence of digital signage, Mobile and kiosks as integrated marketing solutions continues to show great success with customer engagement and loyalty development of the brand.

It is a natural tendency to want to look at technologies in opposition to one another. Let’s just come to the net right now and put this discussion away. Asking if kiosks can still prevail in the face of mobile is not the right question. Mobile is not simply a stand-alone channel. Mobile communication will complement kiosks and digital signage. As I’ve said many times previously, it’s not about the technology. The question is, “What is the right user experience?”

How stores or service businesses connect the consumer with the brand or service has become part of the product. Access and information have become part of the brand. What we see at retail or in a service setting will never simply be about convergence for the sake of convergence. It will always be about how the brand best serves the consumer.

The venue, target consumer, product and marketing objectives often demand a kiosk as the solution. As I look around the atrium at our FMA headquarters, I feel certain that consumers and manufacturers want to experience video game demonstrators like the Nintendo Wii on a big screen with their hands on real controllers. I look at the Ford Sync kiosk where consumers interacted with a 52-inch touchscreen that shows the new dashboard technology and know that it was designed on a scale to have monumental impact on the floor of auto shows, dealer showrooms and at outdoor events.

Interestingly, or perhaps even ironically, Microsoft chose a kiosk to introduce its Windows 7 mobile phone technology internationally. Customers who purchase Windows 7 phones will use this software on a two-inch by three-inch screen. Yet, Microsoft wanted to demonstrate their new smartphone operating system and its multi-touch swipe function on a grander scale and in such a way that it could be shared with an associate or shopping companion.

If there is a decline in the usage of kiosks in one business segment like airport check-in, there is rising adoption in another. Take healthcare, for example. Kiosks are delivering valuable health-care services in both retail and medical settings. Services targeted to older consumers need to reside on kiosks that take into consideration comfort and physical restrictions. There is a huge segment of aging baby boomers who are never going to be heavy mobile users. In its report, Rise of Apps Culture, PEW Research found people age 55 plus to be least likely to download an application to their phones. Practically speaking, you can’t take a blood pressure reading or screen eyesight with a cell phone alone.

Retailers are still assessing what it means to incorporate mobile into their brands. Just seven months ago, Nicki Baird of Retail Systems Research engaged a group of CIO’s in a discussion of mobile retailing, and they were grappling with how much of their websites should be viewed on a mobile device and with the consequences of constant upgrades from device manufacturers. So far, consumers are not as satisfied with what they’re seeing on mobile websites as they are on the wired web. Shoppers still need the option of connecting to a multiplicity of information and services.

Our customers are listening, testing and adapting. There will be light mobile users, heavy mobile users and users who don’t view their phones as a connective device at all. There are multiple segments to serve and different and complementary paths to be taken. Kiosks and Digital Signage are solidly in the mix. Game still on!

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Ron Bowers
Ron Bowers and Frank Mayer & Associates are recognized for their expertise of the in-store merchandising marketplace. Their creative insight has developed leading edge point of purchase displays, digital signage, kiosks, mobile, and self-service retail customer experiences.
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