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What You Need to Know to Get Started With Print on Demand Kiosks

Retailers who for years have wondered if print on demand kiosks were right for their operations are increasingly finding out they are.

There is a new kiosk coming online approximately every 11 minutes, because they have been proven to be highly effective tools for satisfying customers and improving operations. Statistics show, 88% of best-in-class operators improved customer satisfaction with kiosk systems, 63% improved customer conversion, and 100% reduced labor costs. Retailers who have installed kiosks improved customer satisfaction by an average of 58% overall.

Even though adoption is growing fast, the process of developing and implementing kiosk systems for individual retailers is not. It usually takes at least one year for a kiosk project to go from the planning stage to implementation. Most kiosk applications integrate with existing in-store systems to maximize value. This is time consuming because kiosk applications and developmental environments are often very different from legacy retail applications and require a different skill set to develope.

There are also different requirements for the kiosk equipment itself. Employees running point-of-sale (POS) systems and handheld computers receive much more training than the customers who will use the kiosks. When a POS problem arises, a store employee is on hand to perform troubleshooting or at least alert a manager. However, unless intelligent alert and management functions are built into the kiosk, an equipment problems may go undetected for hours. This results in the kiosk possibly being out of service for hours and frustrating customers the whole time, which is the complete opposite of the intended effect. The success of a kiosk is based on reliability and the user interface.

Kiosk solutions are more and more common, but they are almost always custom. Retailers can rarely take advantage of buying an off-the-shelf kiosk application. A major reason for this is because the kiosk design, user interface and application must all be carefully developed to support specific business goals. Kiosks are used to improve customer convenience, drive incremental sales increases or reduce labor requirements, but a single system isn’t able to do all of these things.

In many cases, companies either don’t have the specific development and integration skills to develop kiosk systems or they are not willing to devote their own IT staff to the task. Everyday operation and support aren’t always immediate concerns because kiosk operations tend to be very stable after they are launched and don’t usually require frequent updates and programming changes.

When considering a using a kiosk, some of the most important questions companies need to find the answers for to determine their readiness are:

Who will design and write the application?
Can systems, already in place for customer loyalty, POS, inventory management, etc,, be integrated into a new, third-party kiosk system?

Who will design and build the kiosk?
How will the kiosk be promoted to our customers?
How will we train customers to encourage adoption?
How much time and resources will be needed to train our staff on the kiosk?
Will there be resistance from staff or unions to implementing kiosks?
How do we get employees to buy-in to the idea of a kiosk?
How much of staff’s time will be needed for routine maintenance and troubleshooting?

Answering these questions will help decide if you are ready to implement a kiosk initiative.

We will now provide some insight into these topics to help retailers develop their own strategies for developing, deploying and maintaining a kiosk.
When considering development needs and capabilities, it helps to break the project down into categories.

Software development and integration
Hardware design, including component selection
Daily operational requirements, including regular maintenance and support

Most of the time retailers customize the software for their kiosk application. Based on statistics, readymade software is only used in about one out of five kiosk projects, and even then it is usually customized. Large companies usually handle the development using their own IT department, but even large firms frequently use ISVs because of the time and expertise required.

Integration usually involves in-house personnel. However, outside firms can do much of the work. On the other hand kiosk design and construction is almost always handled by an outside provider.

Same as with the initial development, companies usually contract out for hardware maintenance. In comparison, software maintenance and additional application assistance is also contracted to a ISV, but it’s not uncommon for retailers to perform these tasks in-house after the initial application development and deployment.
The application itself plays the biggest role in determining the success of a kiosk. However, the interface must be very intuitive and appeal to users with a broad range of computer skills, because customers usually receive their instruction from the kiosk itself.

When there are clear goals driving your kiosk initiative, it makes it easier to develop effective, easy-to-use applications. Kiosk ISVs tend to be more adept to these ideas, where IT personnel are usually generalists. They perform well at identifying the features, transaction options, screen designs, multimedia features and user input options that support specific business objectives, such as improving revenue by increasing complementary item sales, reducing average wait times through self-checkout options, brand enhancement, driving Web traffic, improving staff productivity or capturing more customer information through opt-in promotions.

Kiosk specific experience helps prevent kiosks from becoming islands of automation that leave IT staffers with a standalone, proprietary system to support. Specific talents are required for graphic user interface (GUI) and transaction development, but the kiosk system should still support the back-office systems and corporate IT standards with which they are integrated. An effective approach for retailers is to use an ISV to develop the customer facing kiosk application and to work collaboratively for integration with legacy enterprise systems.
Security is a major concern, same as with any retail system. Kiosk network connections and Web access provide entry points for hackers. Kiosks must support company security standards as well as PCI regulations.
Kiosk software needs to meet all of these requirements, but above all else it has to be reliable. In most cases a kiosk is used so a customer doesn’t need to involve a store employee to complete transactions or acquire the information they want. This also means that there isn’t a store employee standing around, ready to resolve any problems with the kiosk that may come up.

Improving customer satisfaction is the main reason for new kiosk applications. This won’t be accomplished if the kiosk crashes or runs so slow that it doesn’t save time or improve convenience.
Design and Components
Retailers don’t usually design and build their own kiosks. However, they do provide input on the desired functionality and aesthetics for specialized developers to design a product that optimizes performance, power useage, space efficiency and reliability.
There are two types of kiosk displays, touch screen and display only. However there are several technology variations and product options to choose from. Displays will differ in their resolution, expected lifespan, sensitivity to touch, allowed temperature range, power requirements, resistance to scratching and cracking, lighting condition readability, viewing angles, and several other variables.
Printers offer the most features, options and performance capabilities to chose from. The printer design directly contributes to the reliability and support requirements. An example of this is, the larger the capacity of media, the less often paper will need to be replaced. This reduces the chances that a customer will be inconvenienced when a kiosk is out of paper. A larger media capacity also creates more efficient labor since less of the staff’s time is required to load media.

The decisions that are made during the design process will greatly impact the time and effort required for successful operation.
Same as with development, the maintenance for the hardware and software can be either outsourced or handled in house. However, routine maintenance is still unavoidable. Paper will need to be changed, screens will need to be cleaned and store employees won’t be able to wait for outside help with these tasks, nor would it be cost efficient to do so.

Most staff interactions with the kiosk will be with the printer. The dominant print technology used is direct thermal, which is used in kiosks and other unattended printing devices because it is extremely reliable. Direct thermal printers do not require any moving parts to print an image. They print by applying heat to coated paper, which turns dark where the heat is applied. This eliminates the need for toner or ribbons, which result in ink spills and ribbon jams, resulting in downtime.

Since paper is the only supplies needed, thermal printers are restocked much less often than traditional printers. Since checking paper supply isn’t an efficient use of staff time, unattended kiosk printers should have the ability to send an alert when paper is running low. This will allow staff to manage the printer effectively to avoid unplanned downtime.

Some kiosk printers have sophisticated remote management capabilities so IT support personnel can troubleshoot them, load new label and receipt formats, change settings, update wireless security and install new software from their desktops without touching the printer.

Kiosks meant to improve customer satisfaction, to improve staff productivity and reduce operating costs. This is why the development process is so important. Retailers must do all they can to optimize user friendliness, reliability and total cost of ownership of their kiosks. This will require careful consideration of the many details and decisions which frequently involves working with specialized solution providers.

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