October 05, 2009

Self-service kiosks provide convenience, speed in making purchases

Perspective writeup on impact of self-service along with some new IHL numbers

BY AUTUMN SHRUM
FLORIDA TODAY

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In this day and age, you can buy just about anything without interacting with a human.

It's not just the Internet that eliminates the need for face-to-face communication. A growing number of self-service checkouts and kiosks allow consumers to do many things without the involvement of employees.

And more are on the way.

A study by NextGen Research estimates the number of kiosks worldwide will grow from 1 million to 2.5 million by 2014.

There will be more than $775 billion in kiosk transactions by the end of this year, according to The North American Self-Service Kiosks Market Study by IHL Group, and that number could grow to $1.6 trillion by 2013. The consulting group attributes this growth to consumer demand for technology that accommodates today's fast-paced lifestyles.

So what are kiosks?

They take several forms, IHL Group says, including self-service checkout systems in retail establishments, machines that dispense tickets, stamps, DVDs and other retail products, check-in devices that confirm something you've already paid for, and food-ordering equipment commonly found at causal dining and fast food restaurants.

Some Brevard residents say more kiosks will make life easier, while others say they'd take a person over a machine any day.

Jack Faulds of Melbourne said he thinks Redbox, the $1 movie rental kiosk found in area Wal-Marts, is a "wonderful thing." And he said he's been using the self-checkouts at BJ's Wholesale Club and Home Depot for years.

"I don't want to stand in line, and that is one of the good things about self-checkout," Faulds said. "The main benefit is it saves time."

Faulds admits he's had trouble at self-checkouts. One time at Home Depot, he wasn't sure how to ring up a few bolts in the self-checkout line. Turns out, a cashier has to look up the price of bolts and scan them from a list. Still, it wasn't an inconvenience, Faulds said.

"The few times I've had a problem, there's somebody right there to help me with it," he said.

Claudia Thomas of Mims, a systems administrator for Lockheed Martin, said she is an "admitted geek" who loves technology, including self-service kiosks and checkouts. She uses them mainly at Target and grocery stores.

On the other hand, Lois Dickinson of Titusville can't stand kiosks of any kind, suggesting they create extra work for the customer. She'll gladly wait in a longer line at Wal-Mart or pay more for curbside check-in at the airport if it means dealing with an employee.

"I avoid them," Dickinson said. "If you make one little mistake, you're lost."

Check-in kiosks at airports make travel a hassle, said Kelly Uhland of Melbourne, whose family of four adults and five children travel to New Jersey every summer. With all of the long lines and commotion at the airport, "it would be nice to deal with human beings," the Melbourne woman said.

Thomas said she's noticed a few kinks in self-service technology that need to be worked out. Scales that weigh fresh produce at self-checkouts, for example, don't always work properly.

"Until they really resolve that, they need to keep people on standby to help," she said.

There's another downside to more kiosks: fewer jobs.

"It's putting people out of work," said Judy Wynne of Melbourne. "These kiosks are just taking over."

Wynne, who managed a Gimbels department store years ago, remembers having 20 people on her staff at one time.

"Now you walk in a store and you can't find a person," she said.

"It could mean potential job loss, there's no escaping that," Thomas, the Lockheed systems administrator, said. But, she added, while kiosks might take the jobs of cashiers and baggers, they might help created jobs for servicing kiosks and developing kiosk technology.

"I prefer to call it an adjustment in the types of jobs people have," she said.

Love it or hate it, self-service is here to stay. Thomas encourages the technophobic to at least try using a kiosk, and the technologically savvy to be patient with new users.

"When I see other people struggling, I do my part to help them," she said.

Contact Shrum at 242-3612 or [email protected]

Posted by staff at October 5, 2009 07:51 AM