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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David Wagner   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/3/2012 5:30:39 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location
@tinym- I like the way you phrase that. Some retail company out to actually create stores called "Scan and Scram" based on this idea. It is the perfect evolution from the 5 and 10.
tinym   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/3/2012 8:50:54 AM
Re: Location, Location, Location
Good stuff, David! You're really onto something here.
I'd like to drop by the local "Scan and Scram" to demo something I've been eyeing online for months.
tinym   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/3/2012 8:47:59 AM
Re: Location, Location, Location
I say an app and kiosks. Assuming everyone has a smartphone would be a bad move for retailers since not everyone does, especially lifelong shoppers of older brands.
batye   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 4:26:32 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location
it would be interesting big players like BestBuy and Sears closing retail location's but Amazon planning to open , maybe Amazon have something new in it sleve...

from the past Amazon always able to change the market ...
bnazarian   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 4:19:32 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location

I look forward to seeing how Amazon does a retail store. I would definitely check it out, especially if they have one within 100 miles of me! They can go low end or high end. Be like Sharper Image + with a lot of electronics and one of a kind items or they can be a Walmart type super store. I prefer the former to the latter. Especially if they offer kiosks for ordering all the other things available.
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David Wagner   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 12:30:50 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location
If Amazon were to create a brick and mortar would it look something like Barnes & Noble do you think? After all, B&N carries not just books but more and more toys and products that aren't book related.

I would think Amazon would have to do one of two things:

1) Make a store much more like Walmart than B&N. They're known now for having everything under the son. If they were just books and stuff it wouldn't be enough. There will soon be a lot of big box vacanies out there, too with Best Buy, HH Gregg, Sears, KMart and others considering or committing to closing stores. The available real estate has to be enticing.

On the other hand, there's a reason big box stores are struggling so maybe it is a bad idea.

2) The alternative would be to reinvent the store. Some sort of showroom and kiosk system so you could see the product you are buying on a demo floor but order the product to be shipped to your house. Essentially that's what is happening to those big box stores. People are going to the stores, looking at the product, checking Amazon's price and then ordering it on their phones right there in someone elese's store. It is called "scan and scram."

Amazon or whoever succeeds in the future will solve the scan and scram problem one way or another.
David Wagner   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 12:23:37 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location
@birgit- True about penetration. i saw an article this weekend that put something into perspective. The electronics product with the quickest market pentraiton ever was the boom box. Go figure.

Anyway, you're right that the kiosk makes a good transition technology. But i suspect higher end retailers will prefer the smart phone app as a way of getting the right customers.
David Wagner   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 12:19:03 PM
Re: Location, Location, Location
@henrisha- I think right now, the best thing for a retailer to do is probably have an app AND a kiosk right now for that very reason. But I suspect the kiosk will give way in the long run.
bnazarian   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 10:35:52 AM
Re: Location, Location, Location

If Amazon were to create a brick and mortar would it look something like Barnes & Noble do you think? After all, B&N carries not just books but more and more toys and products that aren't book related.

The merging makes sense to me. We all want a nearly infinite selection of inventory and we want to examine what we're buying, right? I choose the brick & mortar bookstore everytime over the online one because I want to go there and have the experience, buy a coffee, browse titles. You can't do it the same way online. If they don't have it on the shelf I order it from their help desk shipped to my house. And I still get my coffee. 
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bnazarian   Hybrid Shopping Makes Brick-and-Mortar Stores More Satisfying   4/2/2012 10:28:52 AM
Re: Location, Location, Location

Actually there is a lot of debate flying around in the kiosk industry websites about this very topic right now and you're right, it's one of the issues they are very concerned with and interested in.

Smartphones are reaching an impressive market penetration but they aren't in the hands of all the shoppers. People like us on E2 of course are familiar with all the conveniences of Smartphones but they are still expensive and relatively complex devices for some. In a place like Kohls in my Ohio neighborhood for example, the typical shoppers are not your typical Smartphone carriers -- plus our cell coverage is still spotty in places. In that nearby Kohls store though, the sales staff appeared to be well versed in how the kiosk worked and can assist users and encourage them to use it themselves on their next visit. Personally I like the large screen on the kiosks (could be my age) and the fact that it's ready to use with the information I need already displayed. 
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