Kiosks can `virtually enlarge’ stores

Eaton's and Cineplex Odeon will begin testing interactive kiosks in a variety of promotional situations over the next two months.The kiosks, designed and built by Sierra Communications of Toronto, can also collect consumer information and issue incentives such as coupons and...

Eaton’s and Cineplex Odeon will begin testing interactive kiosks in a variety of promotional situations over the next two months.

The kiosks, designed and built by Sierra Communications of Toronto, can also collect consumer information and issue incentives such as coupons and hard copies of product information.

Gary Chaikin, president of Sierra, which makes the kiosks for use in promoting everything from coffee makers to movies, says advertisers which sign on with his company will have a lead over others in the race for customers.

In the case of Eaton’s, Chaikin says the kiosks, loaded with promotional material on numerous household products, will ‘virtually enlarge’ the stores.

Can specify product

Consumers can specify the type of product they are looking for through a touch-sensitive screen

After working through a series of menus specifying the brand name or features they want, they are given a presentation on the product that best satisfies their criteria.

The presentations vary from basic product information text to elaborate, action-packed video displays, depending on the investment of the advertiser.

‘Most of the clients already have video, which we can incorporate,’ Chaikin says.

The logo of Eaton’s Bistro housewares campaign is being incorporated into the video presentation.

Chaikin sees benefits beyond the advertising of particular products:

‘[The kiosks] expand [the retailer's] ability to service the customer, and help their supplier stock the smaller stores,’ he says.

‘The other thing it will do is provide service support both for the sales staff and the customers.’

John Reid, general merchandise manager for Home Fashion Accessories at Eaton’s, says the retailer is no stranger to interactive kiosks and already has some in place as part of its gift registry service in the bridal departments of about 45 stores.

‘We look on the kiosks as an opportunity to provide customers with product knowledge that may not be available through our sales associates,’ Reid says.

‘Our interest is not any more complicated than that,’ he says.

he Sierra kiosk trial is being confined to about 10 Eaton’s stores of various sizes in southern Ontario.

Reid expects the kiosks will be more popular in the smaller stores, where it is less likely that a given product will be on hand to inspect.

Initially, about 60 products will be advertised on the kiosks.

‘We’d like to see more, but, like any new concept [the clients] are not neccessarily meeting it with open arms,’ Reid says. ‘It’s a wait-and-see type of thing.’

Understandably, the clients are only interested in interactive technology if it is cost-effective.

‘We want to see if there’s any real benefit,’ says Ron Nixon, senior manager of Black & Decker’s national accounts, household products group.

‘It’s great if 4,000 people touch the screen, but we want to see what we get out of it,’ Nixon says. ‘The bottom line is we’ve got to sell more product.’

Film exhibitor Cineplex Odeon will soon be placing entertainment-oriented kiosks in six of its Toronto theatres.

Consumers can do such things as watch a preview of an upcoming movie, find out where and when it is playing, and read short biographies of its stars.

Users who agree to enter information about their entertainment preferences and interests can be rewarded with discount coupons on a variety of entertainment products and services.

Ads will be contained in headers across the top of the screen, and other promotions, including regular television commercials, will be interspersed throughout the kiosk programming.

‘We’re looking to test the appropriateness and demand of the technology,’ says Marcie Davies, assistant vice-president of marketing at Cineplex Odeon.

Davies says they will be selling advertising packages and sponsored movie trailers for the kiosks, adding their placement in movie theatres allows advertisers to target a specific consumer market.

‘It’s young people who will use the kiosks,’ Davies says. ‘They target a very hard-to-reach market.’

The Amazing Video Network, which maintains video rental vending machines in Becker’s convenience stores, also will be testing Sierra kiosks throughout Toronto.

The dozen or so kiosks, installed on the sides of the vending machines, will have full-motion advertising of store products sandwiched between previews of available videos.

The kiosks can also distribute discount coupons in exchange for customer information.

Garson Hoffman, general manager of the Amazing Video Network, says he is excited at the prospect of installing the kiosks and expects use will be ‘phenomenal.’

The Sierra kiosks are designed to make navigating through vast amounts of information as easy as possible for the consumer.

‘The kiosks give [consumers] literally tons of information, on many different levels,’ Chaiken says.

‘There has to be a simple, straightforward comfortable way to get through it all,’ he says. ‘That’s really what these kiosks do best.’

Chaikin says Sierra has done a lot of real world testing during the development process.

‘You tend to get caught up in your own world, so we’re very conscious of breaking down those [technological] barriers,’ he says.

‘We try really hard to listen to our clients and our customers and the people who would actually use the kiosks, in terms of both designing the graphic and the interactive flow.’

The process of designing a kiosk enclosure starts with a consideration of the environment and the use to which it will be put.

Chaikin says the key to attracting attention to the kiosks is to make them stand out, but not so much that they clash with their environment.

‘Everything we do is tied into the needs and requirements of our customers and the people who use them,’ he says.

‘Our experience is that if you give people a plain box without anything going on in it, then people don’t see it, and don’t remark on it.

‘You’ve got to give people something that’s attractive visually, and is functional and easy to use.’

As well as using color and lighting to help attract consumers, Sierra is planning on using proximity switches that initiate videos when people approach the machines.

In some cases, signs will be used to engage the consumer.

Chaikin criticizes other companies producing kiosks that have huge enclosures and small screens.

He disagrees that bigger is better, and designs kiosks which tend to accentuate the screen, which often project out of the enclosure.

Sierra has also designed a liquid crystal display weighing about a pound and a half, which can be installed in walls, desks, and vending machines.

The technology exists to go much further with kiosk marketing, and some companies that have approached Sierra seem interested in pushing the envelope, but Chaikin says for every company that wants to storm ahead, there are many others that are tentative about interactivity.

‘The issue isn’t whether or not we can put a credit card reader on the kiosk, or a bar code reader, or a phone, or even teleconferencing, or a video camera, so that we can interact with a remote site,’ he says.

‘All of these things are possible today.

‘The issue really is are the retailers prepared to integrate these systems into their overall information technology and marketing strategies?

‘Other companies are simply not as sophisticated and aren’t used to dealing with customers in this electronic way.’

Chaikin says the process of putting together a strategy incorporating kiosks will put clients in a strong position to take advantage when interactive marketing on a larger scale becomes more tenable.