Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying

Birgit Nazarian, Writer, specializing in IT and HR | 3/30/2012 | 32 comments

Birgit Nazarian
Self-service kiosks that help you locate products, get more information, or order items that aren’t available in the store are a good way to help stem the hemorrhaging of business to Internet retailers. Shoppers who enjoy the experience of brick-and-mortar stores or are simply more comfortable seeing products for themselves get the best of both worlds from a rich, hybrid experience that combines bricks and mortar with technology.

Part of the reason we shop online is because a store’s size might limit its inventory and its capacity to display merchandise. Recently, I found the perfect T-shirt at the perfect price, and I wanted one in every color. But -- too bad for me -- many other women apparently had the same idea, and there were no more in my size. I walked up to the new self-service kiosk in the store. Using the bar code scanner attached to the kiosk, I located my item and placed an order. The in-store discount applied, and there were no shipping charges. Obviously, that was much better than missing out on a good deal or even visiting the retailer’s Website later and paying for shipping.

A good self-service system like that one helps stores win over customers, increase sales, and save money in the long run. The ROI depends on the overall costs, and there are several things to consider up front.

  • Short term costs: equipment purchases, software, systems integration, and site installation
  • Long term costs: content management, system management, equipment monitoring, and repairs

Though kiosk hardware and software costs are coming down, many IT departments and managers might be asking themselves whether they should go with a manufacturer’s software (designed to be customized) or develop the software in-house. A lot of thought needs to go into implementing a kiosk system, including future needs, scalability, and the costs of developing in-house software if that’s decided. It’s a big investment, so it doesn’t hurt to get many heads together on this one, including the store planning, IT, marketing, and even legal departments.

In designing the ultimate experience for the customer, planners should discuss the kiosk's location, how obvious the purpose is to a shopper, the complexity of using it, and the speed and reliability of the unit and its peripherals. The overall experience should be easy on the users. They should get what they need quickly, and they should be able to make a transaction without hassle.

ROI can be measured in a variety of ways. A kiosk may mean you need fewer workers on the floor to assist customers. During peak times like holidays and weekends, the kiosk may provide faster service to customers. And every customer order made using the kiosk in the store becomes data that’s measurable for ROI.

Though electronic kiosks haven’t always been embraced by those who prefer dealing with a human being, willingness to interact with technology has increased exponentially in recent years. This survey shows 51 percent of shoppers are interested in using kiosks in stores. And 42 percent are interested in the even more expensive and robust "video walls."

Since the introduction of smartphones and tablets, the general public has grown ever more accepting of kiosks, and the increased availability of these virtual sales assistants will further increase that willingness. In the survey, almost 74 percent of shoppers said they did research online -- sometimes directly in the store -- before making a purchase. The best thing you can do for yourself and your customers is to make that research and the purchase that follows as easy as possible. Hybrid shopping gives you that ability.

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Gigi   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 6:24:29 AM
Re: Location, Location, Location
Birgit, both have its own advantage and disadvantages. Kiosk can have feelings of real time physical shopping. Where we are trying for trials and have a real look for the quality of products. But in online shopping, there won't be such chances; we have to believe the product description available along with the product. But cost to the product is less when compare with the physical shops.
Henrisha   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 3:55:03 AM
Re: Location, Location, Location
David, you have a point. Personally, I'd prefer a kiosk because that way, I wouldn't have to download anything on my app or have to go hunting around for some way to get the app. The kiosk would make things simpler because it's there in the store, right in front of me, just waiting to be used.

Each alternative has its pros and cons, but I think both would do relatively well in improving the customer's shopping experience.
Henrisha   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 3:53:47 AM
Re: Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying
Speaking like a true shopaholic, I'm all for anything that would enhance the shopping experience, whether online or in brick-and-mortar stores. In my opinion, it's only a matter of time before these two merge or before stores release some sort of hybrid in both channels.

For example, I recently went on Babies R Us to shop for some supplies for my sister, who had just given birth. I liked that there was an option to pick up the items in store rather than have them shipped, because it's more accessible that way sometimes. I know many stores do this, and it might seem like a small thing at the outset, but the amount of work required to do this is, I'm sure, extensive. But it makes everything convenient for the shopper (which encourages them to buy), so why not?
David Wagner   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   3/31/2012 11:00:36 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location
The one thing that I wonder about this is if the better way to handle this is through an app rather than kiosk. With everyone having a smart phone why bring in another piece of computer equipment?
David Wagner   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   3/31/2012 10:56:13 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location
I think it is really astute to bring the online experience into the brick and mortar space. Out of curiosity, do we think we're just going to see online and brick and mortar merge? The rumors that Amazon will be heading into brick and mortar persist despite how far fecthed it sounds.
bnazarian   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   3/31/2012 10:42:32 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location
@TinyM and white.space, 

I was in Kohls. But recently I notice kiosks and different variations of signage and self service devices in so many stores I have begun to gravitate towards them to see what they can do for me to help me find items or even order items that aren't available in the store. Another example is Land's End in Sears. They only stock a small selection (relatively speaking) that the catalog offers, but they have computer screens and catalogs (and I expect them to upgrade to kiosks sometime in the future since you usually have a salesperson help you with in store orders now) for you to use in placing an order. 
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bnazarian   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   3/31/2012 10:34:43 PM
Re: Brick/Mortar issues
From what I can see, brick and mortar chain stores are doing their level best to compete with the online retailers. There is a lot of technology now in places like American Eagle, Kohls, Walmart-- just about everywhere. I am glad they haven't thrown in the towel because I really believe we need to be present to shop for certain things. I recently ordered swimsuits from an online retailer. Only out of desperation (because I am tall, most brick and mortar stores don't stock tall women's clothes). Ideally I would be able to go to a physical store, try on some suits and if they didn't have the color, style or size I wanted, I could turn to an in store self service kiosk and get exactly what I wanted with the added benefit of checking out the merchandise first hand. Best. Possible. Scenario (for me as a consumer anyway).  Yes, it's expensive and a bit of a pain to buy and maintain self serve kiosks, but it works well for larger chain stores I believe. 
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white.space   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   3/31/2012 9:18:25 PM
Solving the SCM and logistics issues
This sounds interesting, and I echo some of the other posts in asking which store where you in? Macy's probably has something like this, if I remember right, would be nice to know of a few others. 

I also have a question on the delivery. Were the items shipped to you? Or did you have to go pick it up from the store at same stage? This is relevant because a lot of companies look at brick and morter stores as separate business units, and sometimes even different stores of the same franchise compete for business. Wonder how having facilities like this affect the supply chain and logistics of these companies.. Any thoughts?
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white.space   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   3/31/2012 9:13:43 PM
Re: Hybrid Shopping
Even though, I had browsed through the technical specifications online, I just had to see the two side by side to make a decision. 

I know the feeling; thats why I used to buy books at the store when Borders was around. There was just something about the touch and feel and smell of the book, coupled with instant gratification of having the book on your hand, just that minute. These days I am on the Kindle for the most part, and do miss the book shop experience at times. 

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impactnow   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   3/31/2012 5:08:14 PM
Hybrid is the future

Absolutely hybrid will be necessary for bricks and mortar businesses to survive. I think our expectations have changed and we are expecting the in store experience to mimic our online experience. I  the future we will se more digital and interactive signage and display and more tablet usage in store.

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