Kiosks of the future

Kiosks. They are all around us: At the local gas station, supermarket and convenience store, in the hotel lobby and the retail phone centre.
A quick look around will confirm that today, the kiosk could be described as a stand-alone sales and information device. Tomorrow, however, is another story: The kiosk will become more of a concept than a box with a screen, as it evolves into a special-purpose access device. The kiosk of the future will be linked to a common intelligent network, and it will track consumers wherever they go.

Kiosks. They are all around us: At the local gas station, supermarket and convenience store, in the hotel lobby and the retail phone centre.

A quick look around will confirm that today, the kiosk could be described as a stand-alone sales and information device. Tomorrow, however, is another story: The kiosk will become more of a concept than a box with a screen, as it evolves into a special-purpose access device. The kiosk of the future will be linked to a common intelligent network, and it will track consumers wherever they go.

Now: Kiosks as physical devices

In order to forecast the future of kiosks, it is important to understand what a kiosk is and the fundamental basics that will continue to exist as technology marches forward.

To begin, let’s eliminate the mental image of a kiosk as a large physical box with a screen on the front and a computer inside. What is at play is more conceptual. A better definition might be that a ‘kiosk solution’ is one that allows consumers to perform tasks that could previously be done only through interaction with other humans.

Kiosk solutions can empower and liberate consumers because they provide value over and above the old way of performing the task. That value can take the form of speed, convenience, accuracy and timeliness of information, or privacy when dealing with sensitive subjects.

In the U.K., energy giant BP is already using kiosks in its gas/convenience stores to provide online services for people on the road. Customers can send e-mails, source information, or buy gifts in a hurry.

Grocery stores in the U.S. have also deployed kiosk solutions as part of an overall approach to enriching the customer experience. With the deli kiosk, for example, shoppers can create customized orders without having to wait in line. Minutes later, the order is packaged and ready for pick up. Other kiosk applications allow shoppers to check recipes or find information on cheese or wine.

Near: Self-checkout and

advisory kiosks

Between 2002 and 2006, kiosks will provide more customer convenience. Self-checkout kiosks in grocery stores will make it more convenient for consumers to pay for their own purchases. Bill payment kiosks will make the process of paying bills faster and easier, while hotel check-in kiosks will become more common.

Businesses are already deploying this near-term strategy. U.S. retailer K-Mart recently completed a 1,300-store rollout of self-checkout units, and it’s already seeing up to 40% of transactions occurring at the self-checkout lanes. Wireless companies like Sprint PCS and Cingular have deployed bill payment kiosks, giving existing customers the convenience of paying in person while freeing up store staff to better assist new customers. These kiosks are now handling 95% of in-store payments.

Beyond offering a transactional or educational benefit, kiosks have the potential to influence consumer purchase decisions in the retail world as well. Jupiter Media predicts that, by 2006, kiosks will influence more than $77 billion in retail purchases. These type of transactions could include consumers testing games or software products using the in-store kiosk. Another example could be a retail kiosk solution that would take an image of a consumer, and then recommend different styles of eyewear or clothing.

Future: Kiosks as

personal agents

The technological changes that kiosks will undergo over the next 10 years will mirror those of the computing industry in general. We are already in the age of contextual computing, and we are becoming increasingly comfortable with using different types of devices to perform different tasks.

Just think, it wasn’t too many years ago that we had a single image of a computing device: the desktop PC. Today people use desktop PCs, laptops, Personal Digital Assistants, pagers and cell phones interchangeably during the course of their day. What determines the choice of one device over another is simply the task to be performed.

Similarly, in the future, people will access kiosk technology via a myriad of devices and access points, depending on location and the task at hand. There will be small, wireless, hand-held mobile access points, highly capable portable access points, and fixed-location access points with specialized packaging and peripherals. All of these points will be connected to a common intelligent network that will track the consumer and the related tasks across each and every point.

The ultimate kiosk solution will be the consumer’s own personalized intelligent agent that will reside in the network, but be accessible from wherever the consumer is situated, and be capable of performing any task the consumer chooses. While this may not come into being for many years, with each step in technology, we are moving closer.

Based in Toronto, Brian Sullivan is president of NCR Canada and head of the company’s retail solutions division. He can be reached at: 1-800-262-7782.