Do You Listen to Your Shoppers?

Aug 30, 2004

By John Hennessy

Staples and Office Depot are both deploying in-store kiosks. The major focus of these initiatives is to expand the selection of products available for sale to shoppers who visit a store. Online ordering through in-store kiosks is also a way for both retailers to gain additional leverage from their significant e-commerce investments.

Both programs will include additional kiosk functionality such as the ability for shoppers to research product information, verify product availability and manage personal account settings.

In an article by Paul Demery, published in the August, Francie Mendelsohn, president of kiosk research at Summit Research Associates says, “Staples is best at it. They’ve had more success than others. I’m in Office Depot stores all the time, and their kiosks are rarely used.”

The way these two chains are deploying in-store kiosks is quite different. Office Depot is putting in more (eight per store vs. four or six per store for Staples) kiosks. Office Depot is making the kiosks mobile and using wireless network connectivity. Staples is placing wired kiosks in standard locations to make them easy for shoppers to locate.

Mendelsohn makes it clear that implementing a kiosk program is not easy. “You have to keep it simple, to let customers know at a glance what it will do for them, keep the kiosks working 100% of the time, and educate employees to let them know that kiosks are not a threat but an adjunct to the sales process.”

In its kiosk implementation, Staples appears to be aware of the challenges.

Mike Ragunas, vice president of technology strategy and architecture for Staples notes it routinely conducts telephone surveys of customers to get feedback on store policies. “We’re always looking for ways to make it easier for customers,” he says.

Shopper feedback from focus groups is how Staples learned that it needed to implement a fast track checkout option for kiosk shoppers. Under the fast track option, shoppers simply enter basic information in the kiosk, print out the order and take it to a cash register for payment. Prior to the change, a shopper had to enter extensive personal information to place an order whether they wanted to pay at the kiosk or at the register.

Moderator’s Comment: What kiosk programs have you seen that either worked or did not? What role do you believe the retailer’s use or lack of use of shopper
feedback plays in that outcome?

Kiosks are popping up everywhere and shoppers are becoming more familiar with their benefits. But this article is about more than a kiosk program. The two
retailers featured appear to be implementing their programs using very different approaches. One approach is grounded in listening to shoppers; the other approach seems to be
based more on guessing.

The listening approach requires continual feedback from shoppers to check on how shoppers perceive what has been done. It requires measurement of actions
taken and changes against shopper feedback where possible. This approach is slower. This approach is more tedious. This approach is evolutionary. This approach can place some
limits on creativity. This approach can also make it appear that no one knows anything but the shoppers.

The guessing approach can make those implementing the program feel really good. Grand plans are drafted. Large budgets are assigned. There are lots of big
ideas. The latest technology is used. Scale and functionality are the answer to satisfying all shopper needs. Often performance milestones and success metrics are afterthoughts.

Keeping tabs on shopper adoption of these two kiosk programs is going to be interesting. My money is on the retailer with the biggest and most active ears.

John Hennessy – Moderator

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3 Comments on "Do You Listen to Your Shoppers?"

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Martin Amadio
Martin Amadio
17 years 8 months ago
I am surprised that anyone is actually talking with excitement about kiosks in retail stores in 2004. What is the REAL purpose of a kiosk in a Staples or Office Depot? These retailers need to have clear and measurable benchmarks to gauge success of these kiosk programs. I would be interested in finding out what the initial as well as the on-going budgets for these programs are. Kiosks are so much MORE and so much LESS than they appear to be Ask yourself these questions: How many times have you seen a broken kiosk in a retail store? What was the PURPOSE of that kiosk? How many kiosks have you seen come and go in retail stores you visit regularly? Where do you see kiosks actually providing needed services? (Hint-Airport check-in, banks) Why would I look for a product on a computer screen, when I should be able to find it on the shelf of the store I am standing in? Will the store associates use the kiosk to help you find the printer ink… Read more »
James Tenser
17 years 8 months ago
Well the rollout of 7,000 new wireless kiosks at Office Depot may be news, but that retailer’s use of kiosks is not brand new. Office Depot is one of the most integrated multi-channel retailers in America – serving consumers through store, catalog and online touchpoints. The catalog/online assortment is many times larger than the in-store assortment could possibly be. The in-store electronic kiosk provides a touchpoint-within-a-touchpoint. That is, a place in the store where the customer can access the full assortment of item offerings. These may include alternative finishes for office furniture items, a custom-configured PC, or a particular type of spiral notebook. Yes, this is like the “endless aisle” concept. It builds upon the infrastructure already created to support the online channel and channel integration overall. Kiosks themselves are just special-duty PCs that connect to Web servers which in turn access the same virtual inventory data as the other channels do. Orders are delivered from regional warehouses using company-owned trucks, so overnight delivery is the norm in this retail segment. Now – will shoppers… Read more »
Gwen Morrison
Gwen Morrison
17 years 8 months ago
Most kiosks we’ve seen haven’t done a good job engaging and selling to shoppers. They are commonly designed to communicate a lot of technical detail that can’t fit within the traditional shelf allocation. Often they deliver too much information for shoppers to take in. Examples from the world of misguided kiosks can be found in banks and in the back corners of many other retail formats. The most effective Kiosks often are created as tools to help shoppers experience something aspirational that might not be otherwise possible in the physical constraints of the store. For example, over 5 years ago the Audi dealership in London used a kiosk as a dynamic tool to activate desire. But there is increased acceptance of Kiosks as in-store access points to on-line stores. This is the model that Staples and Office Depot are developing, albeit with different approaches. As such, they are sure to aid the shopper and even enhance the experience in environments challenged by the limited sales staff. One of the panellists questioned if these particular kiosks… Read more »