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Given the customer benefits that kiosks and digital signage can deliver for retailers, the challenges that oftentimes accompany these deployments are an acceptable cost.

Jeff Pinc of Panasonic USA moderates an engaging session. Photo by Matt Tilbury.

That was the verdict of a pair of retail decision-makers who shared their experiences introducing kiosks and digital signage solutions during the ICX Summit in Dallas two weeks ago.

Jarred Smith, manager of digital experience at Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, and Paul Epperly, former director of technology portfolios at Sodexo, offered a wealth of pointers to retailers interested in leveraging digital media technology. Jeff Pinc, director of sales at Panasonic USA, served as moderator.

Love’s 2015 digital marketing initiative introducing 470 touchscreen kiosks and 2,330 digital screens gave the company more control of its customer messaging, Smith said.

A major advantage with this rollout was the company’s ability to create all digital content in-house for kiosks, digital signage, social media and web.

For Sodexo, a global foodservice operator for 2,500 clients in North America and Europe, managing the content for about 5,000 kiosks proved more challenging, since the content needs varied among its customers, Epperly said. Unlike Love’s, Sodexo largely relied on its food and beverage vendors for digital content.

Love’s digital journey was also made easier by its partnership with ComQi Inc., a content management software and solutions provider, but the initial rollout did have its growing pains, Smith said.

Customer education needed

Jarred Smith of Love’s stresses the need for customer education. Photo by Matt Tilbury.

The touchscreens Love’s installed in its truck stops did not initially get much use from customers since they weren’t familiar with them. Most of the truck stops’ customers are middle aged truck drivers.
“The idea of a touchscreen was novel to them,” Smith said.

To engage customers, Love’s changed the content based on Google Analytics data, and added a scrolling feature that allowed customers to view information about weather and traffic.

This way, even if they didn’t interact with the touchscreen, they received some value. In time, they began to engage.

A sweepstakes giveaway requiring the customer to use the kiosk also generated engagement, Smith said.

“The user interaction brought more users to it,” he said.

Impact on kitchen operations

When Sodexo introduced self-order kiosks to reduce wait times for orders at its customers’ cafeterias, the kitchens initially were not able to handle the volume of orders, Epperley said.

“When dealing with orders on kiosks, you have to be keenly aware of what your kitchen can handle,” he said.

One of Sodexo’s biggest challenges was finding a reliable payment mechanism for the kiosks. The first two vendors’ products did not work consistently.

“Payments have been a pain in the butt,” he said.

Micro markets bring challenges

Paul Epperly of Sodexo notes customer adoption can be slow. Photo by Matt Tilbury.

Sodexo also introduced kiosks to meet client requests for 24/7 access to food. The company installed micro markets — unattended markets offering customers open product shelving and automated cashless payment — at college campuses and business and industry locations.

One issue they encountered with micro markets was customer theft, necessitating the need to add surveillance cameras. Theft was more of a problem in the B&I accounts than the college accounts.

While micro markets offer a great customer convenience, they incur the cost of attaching RFID tags to the products, Epperly said. The customers pay for their purchases by scanning the RFID tags at an RFID reader on the kiosk.

While some kiosks can alternate between serving as POS stations and self-serve terminals in cafeterias, Epperly said this can confuse customers. Customers will not necessarily know that at a different time of day they should not expect a clerk to attend to the machine.

Customer reaction not black and white

While the kiosks generally improved the customer experience, there are some challenges in customer relations, Epperly said. In some instances, customers did not appreciate the kiosks since they saw them as eliminating jobs.

“Sometimes you can really turn off your customers,” Epperly said. “I think there is a fine line to walk. Sometimes it’s a slow adoption. There are lots of things that can trip you up when you are deploying.”

The company also learned the importance of not placing too much information on the kiosk touchscreen, Epperly said, since it can confuse the customer.

Location variances were less of an issue for Love’s than for Sodexo, but Smith said his company, like Epperly’s, encountered challenges determining where to place a kiosk without interrupting customer traffic flow.

The speakers both agreed that deciding on which kiosk vendor to work with can be challenging. In Sodexo’s case, the list was narrowed by the need to be able to integrate with the company’s existing kitchen display system.

They also both cited the challenge of meeting ADA requirements. In Love’s case, one reason for the scrolling feature to the touchscreens was to meet ADA rules.

Kiosks improve customer experience

Epperly acknowledged that touchscreens are excellent POS tools for displaying nutrition information. He also gave the kiosks good marks for providing helpful customer data.

Kiosks delivered a 24 percent to 26 percent increase in average check size at the Hollywood Bowl, Epperly said, a boost he credited largely to upselling and improved order accuracy.

“We do get that uptick,” he said. Reducing the need to handle cash also contributes a savings.

Epperly further noted that millennial customers typically do not want human interaction.

For Love’s, the biggest benefit from the digital initiative was the ease of signing people up for the loyalty program. Instead of having to have people call customer service and have a customer service rep gather information, the cashier simply directs the customer to a kiosk and allows them to enter their information themselves. This has eliminated thousands of man hours for the company.

Despite all the challenges, Smith and Epperly view kiosks and digital signage as worthwhile endeavors.

Posted with permission from
Photo Credit: Networld Media Group
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