Kiosks Help Consumers Help Themselves

Interactive in-store advertising provides consumers with expert advice at the point of purchase.

By Julie Dalton

Everyone is in a hurry these days – including consumers. Consumers want information quickly, and sales clerks can’t always provide the information they need. That’s why many retailers have turned to interactive kiosks to provide customers with problem-solving tools. This month, we examine two point of sale kiosks that are helping customers help themselves while allowing retailers to sell their products more efficiently.

Consumer Control

"One of the key trends taking place in the healthcare industry is that consumers are taking a more active role in their healthcare," says Emmett Burns Jr., president and owner of Issaquah, Wash.-based MA Network. This trend is the driving force behind the LifeInfo HealthCenter, a kiosk that uses touchscreen technology to educate consumers about health-related issues and products while promoting products from the healthcare industry.

MA Network’s LifeInfo HealthCenter is a kiosk designed to center around the consumer. MA Network worked with a design and manufacturing company, to center the unit around an ergonomically contoured chair, designing a seat that accommodates the HealthCenter’s main user, women, as well as men up to 6'4" in height. The HealthCenter is an 11-sq.-ft. freestanding unit, standing up to 7 1/2 feet high.

"Traditionally, kiosks were big bulky boxes," says Rey Sabado, creative director at MA Network. "We were looking for different packaging that would bring a certain amount of product identity. The design is very unique and does two things: It makes the kiosk more user-friendly, and it also disguises the fact that it’s a kiosk. It’s not just a box with a computer in it."

The LifeInfo HealthCenter offers four main services to its users. The Magazine section of the touchscreen features current articles, quizzes and news items on health and lifestyles and includes special sections for diabetics, women and those with heart-related problems. The Health Condition, Drug and Herbal Guide offers information from a database of reference information. A Health Monitor feature measures weight, heart rate, body fat and blood pressure and a Product Center includes a product catalog, coupons and promotions.

When consumers sit down and use the touchscreen, they can find information about healthcare issues and products that can help with purchasing decisions. They can print out just one article or a whole database about a particular subject, and by touching banners and buttons, users can view advertising messages and receive coupons for products. Other features of the kiosk are interactive as well. The seat acts as a scale, which registers weight even though it barely moves. A special cuff measures blood pressure, heart rate and body fat using the latest technology. And consumers can use handsets to maintain privacy.

"Today’s consumer has been oriented toward receiving as much information as possible as quickly as possible," says Burns. "Most of the alternatives out there have historically been more textual. While some people like that, we feel there’s a higher percentage of people who want to get the information quickly through a high-fidelity video, audio and graphics format."

"We noticed that the mentality in a lot of kiosks was pretty simple," says Sabado. "We figured the people using it would probably be a little more Web-conscious and aware of new technology. So we wanted to design a more sophisticated interface that would allow them to view the Center as a resource."

MA Network has worked to develop relationships with public and private professional healthcare providers in order to provide qualified health information to consumers in an integrated, easy-to-understand format. New information is downloaded remotely via MA Network’s Intranet so retailers don’t have to worry about keeping the HealthCenter updated.

Another plus for retailers is that the unit is multi-functional. John Hughes, a consultant for MA Network, explains, "You can see other units out there in the marketplace that either don’t have the functionality that this unit has or that have only one of the functions that this unit has. So integrated into a single unit are a lot of applications, which means that it consumes a lot less floorspace than six or eight units performing singular functions."

Another unique aspect of the HealthCenter is that it is integrated within the pharmacy itself. "Most kiosk companies drop a kiosk into a space and say, ‘Here it is.’ But we’re incorporating in-store promotions, posters, three-sided danglers and shelf talkers that help drive customers to the system," explains Sabado. For example, danglers hanging throughout the store might read, "How does your blood pressure rate? Check the LifeInfo HealthCenter," and posters advertising the HealthCenter’s features greet consumers as they’re entering the store.

Advertisers sponsor the HealthCenter program, communicating their messages to potential customers in a number of ways. Customers who choose to view more information about a product can push a button on the touchscreen and receive messages through a mix of text, audio, animation, video and graphics. Advertisers can also sponsor click-through banners or relay messages through a large video display located on the top of the unit to attract customers to the HealthCenter.

"I’d say everything from the HealthCenter’s identity [a "heart beat" logo meant to signify life] to the way we deliver healthcare information, is consistent with the overall position of the LifeInfo health system," says Sabado. "The design of the kiosk, the interface, the promotion and the information being delivered to the consumer all has a consistent look to it which enhances the HealthCenter’s branded image."

MA Network created the HealthCenter with the idea that the technology provides a way to implement quick, consistent and cost-effective updates to the kiosk across all a retailer’s locations. "Many of the services the LifeInfo HealthCenter and MA Network plan to offer in the future will allow the brick-and-mortar retail establishments to effectively compete against the online, electronic pharmaceutical sites," says Hughes.

Pilot units rolled out to select stores in the Seattle area in June. A market research firm will survey consumers and store personnel about their experiences with the HealthCenter, and MA Network will make any necessary changes before a national rollout to pharmacies, independent stores and grocery/drug stores begins around September.

Solving Drink Dilemmas

So you’re planning a dinner party. You have enough to worry about with getting the meal cooked, the house in order and all the arrangements taken care of. But what about the beverages? There are so many choices. And how many of us really know which wine goes best with lamb cuts with cream sauce?

Katonah, N.Y.-based Beverage Marketing Technologies and Atlanta-based NCR Corp. have teamed up to create ChoiceMaster, a new kiosk that makes choosing alcoholic beverages a little easier for customers. The touchscreen kiosk, installed in wine, liquor and beer aisles in retail stores, gives customers information about beverages at the point of sale. With the touch of a screen, consumers can compare brands, find food and drink recipes and even plan a party.

A typical scenario might be as follows: A consumer is throwing a cocktail party and needs to know how much and what kind of alcohol he should buy. Using the touchscreen, he would touch the "Plan Party" button and would be asked to choose from a list of parties including barbecue, wedding, dinner, cocktail, etc. He would then be asked the length of the party, the number of guests and the drinking habits of the guests. For example, what percentage of guests are non-drinkers, light drinkers, moderate drinkers or "party animals." Finally, the consumer would input the percentage of guests that will be drinking beer, wine and liquor.

When all the information has been entered, ChoiceMaster computes the data and tells the customer how much of each type of alcohol he should buy along with a suggested assortment of brands available at the retailer. The consumer can then print out the results and look up additional information about brands available at the store before making a purchasing decision.

"We get as many as 3,000 customer inquiries per month per location," says Jim Greaves, president of Beverage Marketing Technologies, who reports that the Food Matches and Drink Recipe sections are the most frequented sections of the kiosk.

The program is also very retailer-friendly. The kiosk uses little or no floor space because, depending on retailer preference, it can be mounted to a wall or pillar

or sit on a shelf or a small pedestal. Retailers can feature in-store promotions through the program, which is tied into the store’s POS system. The kiosk also serves as a permanent salesperson. Retailers don’t have to worry about sales clerks being unable to answer questions about particular brands or party planning.

"Our primary targets are tier-one and tier-two grocery stores that sell alcoholic beverage products, because there is no element of service and the customer comes in and has no clue as to what to buy," says Greaves. "Our target market is shoppers in the grocery stores looking to make a purchase decision. And 70—75 percent of their decisions are made in that aisle."

"Recently, a shopper in our store approached me for advice on wine," says Mary Ellen Ciccone, manager of the A&P Liquor Store in Wallingford, Conn. "She was planning a small party and wanted to know what varietals would complement a chicken dish she had in mind. Like many shoppers, she was anxious about the possibility of choosing the wrong wine. I directed her to the ChoiceMaster kiosk in our store. In minutes, she was departing the aisle with four bottles of Merlot and a satisfied smile."

Nearly 750 different alcohol brands have participated in the ChoiceMaster program, which is sponsored by brands available at each retail establishment. Advertisers sign up for a package enabling their brand to be featured in certain menus throughout the kiosk. Various levels of sponsorship are available.

Beginning this month, customers will also be able to use the ChoiceMaster on the Internet and will have access to the entire master database. According to Greaves, customers will eventually be able to order products from the Web site and then pick them up at a local ChoiceMaster retailer.

Beverage Marketing Technologies is working with several other industries and hopes to implement the ChoiceMaster kiosk in other food aisles as well.

"With retailing under the pressure that it faces, this touchscreen technology and interactive capability is something that a lot of retailers are going to need – not just in the wine, liquor and beer industries but in a lot of industries – because you can’t find qualified salespeople," says Greaves. "So for the salespeople you have, the technology makes them more efficient at a very affordable price."

Newsbit furnished by:

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