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The main utility is AKA (Automated Kiosk Attendant) which was originally developed to keep Win 95 & NT PC based Public Access Kiosks optimized for 24/7 operation. AKA (PBI version) has been supplied as a free NetShift utility to be run with NetShift PBI.
Now an AKA OSM version for other applications has been released! It is offered as a separate product. For more AKA information visit AKA features!

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In-store kiosks: Retailers' new tool for shoppers


Imagine a customer shopping for a new refrigerator at the local appliance store. There are dozens of models, each with dozens of options and service plans. And it's not clear which colors are in stock in the store and which ones might have to be special ordered -- or how long that might take.
    Meanwhile, at home, the customer's Popsicles are melting, waiting for a new icebox.
    And at the appliance store, there's not a salesman in sight.
    What to do?
    Thanks to the emergence of retailing's hottest new shopping tool, that customer could mosey over to a "kiosk," type a few key numbers from the appliance he's interested in, and immediately see all sorts of additional info on that product. With a touch to the screen, he could see which colors are available, which are in stock at that store and how long home delivery would take.
    Such information is often readily available these days on retailers' World Wide Web sites, but brick-and-mortar stores depend on salesmen and on-the-shelf stock to inform customers and cement sales. What's more, customers accustomed to shopping at the local mall might be reluctant to use a store's Web site -- or might not even know it exists.
    Not anymore.
    Kiosks are popping up in all kinds of retail outlets across the nation, the latest attempt by retailers to integrate their real-life and virtual storefronts and to use their expensive online technology to improve their brick-and-mortar delivery logistics.
    So far, experts say, no one has gotten really good at Web kiosks in retail stores, but it's not for a lack of trying -- the methods and uses for retailer kiosks are changing every day. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. started rolling out its kiosks this summer, and now Sears, Roebuck and Co., the nation's No. 3 retailer, is putting the interactive computers in all of its stores.
    "It's a great idea, the kiosk," said e-commerce analyst Seema Williams at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "An online store can carry an infinite number of products, but the bricks-and-mortar stores are sorely limited in what they can carry because of space.
    "The kiosks will be very valuable, but they're hard to do."
    Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, unveiled its first kiosk in July at its north Fayetteville Supercenter. At first, the smallish, easy-to-use machine, set up in the electronics department, allowed customers to order about a dozen computers, cameras and software items not available in the stores.
    The Wal-Mart kiosk, dubbed Wal-Mart Interactive, takes the customer's delivery address but doesn't require payment information -- instead, it prints a receipt that is carried to the register at the front.
    Eventually, the kiosks -- now in about 60 stores nationwide -- will offer access to Wal-Mart's new Web site, due Jan. 1. That way, customers without Internet access at home can shop at Wal-Mart.com, and with more than 6 million items offered on the site, they'll have a much larger selection to shop from than just what is on the store's shelves.
    In addition, customers will be able to access Wal-Mart.com's new online travel service and its gift registry, said company spokesman Melissa Brown.
    Sears, based outside Chicago, has announced that its kiosks will be the first in the industry to allow customers to access competitors' Web sites. None of Sears' Arkansas stores have the kiosks yet, the company said, but they will get them in the next several months.
    The big idea, Sears says, is that when a customer tells a salesman he wants to shop around before buying -- a common mantra for shoppers considering a big-ticket purchase such as a stove -- the salesman can take the customer to the kiosk and get him on Web sites of other retailers who sell the same item. The customer has no excuse to leave and can compare prices on the spot.
    The benefit is that the customer stays in the store.
    But the drawback -- and Forrester analysts say it's a major one -- is that the customer can't get onto the competitors' Web sites without a password from a salesman.
    "Sears should be giving the control to the customer," said Ekaterina Walsh, a retail analyst at Forrester. "It's like going to a dealership to buy a new car and the salesman not letting the customer drive."
    Nevertheless, the kiosk will allow customers to see Sears.com, and that's the whole idea, experts say.
    Besides deciding how much access to give kiosk users, another major challenge is speed: No one wants to stand in front of a computer screen for 30 minutes, first picking out and learning about an item, then typing in his name, address and purchasing information one letter at a time, said Forrester's Williams.
    "The No. 1 issue really is how fast can you stream together the system," she said.
    "Toys 'R' Us does something that could be used in this situation: They put out only one of each video game, and people who want to buy take a slip with a bar code up to a counter, then someone goes to the back to get your game," Williams explained. "It could be the same at the kiosk. You could grab a slip from the shelf where you found an item you liked, and scan the slip at the kiosk and learn all you want about it, or buy it."
    When retailers perfect the art of the kiosk, they won't need to carry nearly as much stock and won't need to pay as many salesmen to be experts on product information, Williams said. A few retailers, such as Gap, Circuit City and REI, already are figuring this out with their kiosks, she said.
    "If retailers can bring these kiosks into their stores successfully and get the customers to use them, it will be like giving their online storefront vital shelf space on every single aisle in the bricks-and-mortar store," Williams predicted.

This article was published on Sunday, December 5, 1999

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Copyright © 1999, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc

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