Although the Internet created cyberspace, which does not exist in a physical sense, the Web is entering the real world in a new way.
Retailers are increasingly bringing the Internet into brick-and-mortar stores in the form ofWeb kiosks that allow customers to shop online at the store’s e-tail counterpart.
For example, kiosks are already in the works or operating at Barnes & Noble, Kmart and Staples.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if in five years a number of onlinemerchants used kiosks to expand their presence,” IDC analyst Joe Williamson toldthe E-Commerce Times.
Multichannel retailers are finding that kiosks are a cost-effective way for retailers to expand the number of products available and avert lost sales due to out-of-stock merchandise.
Moreover, a positive experience buyingonline at an in-store kiosk can give reluctant Web users thepush they need to begin doing more shopping online.
“Retailers are really starting to understand that leveraging Webtechnology can be beneficial,” Yankee Group analystChristine Loeber told the E-Commerce Times.
The trick to successfully implementing a kiosk strategy,according to Williamson, is to make ordering through an in-store kiosk more convenient than the alternative of asking asalesperson to place the order, or going to another retailer.
Even so, Loeber says that retailers should provide consumers withcustomer service to guide them through the e-tail experience.
Although it is critical to ensure that the kiosks are strategicallyplaced within the store and user-friendly, another important step toward boosting consumer adoption is to developcustomized kiosks that provide moreinformation than the company’s standard Web site.
Kiosks could also be used as a source of additional product information,according to Williamson, who commented that “the average kiosk has moreand better information than the average salesperson.”
Although the Web savvy may find it silly to use a kiosk at aretailer when they could go home, log on and purchase an itemfrom any variety of merchants, Internet kiosks do have someadvantages over online shopping.
Loeber pointed out that consumers still want to see and touchmerchandise. Offering an online kiosk lets retailers keepsmaller quantities of merchandise in stock to serve that purpose, while still being able to provide consumers access to products in a variety of colors and sizes.
Alos, having a kiosk in a store that sells a number of large and bulky items — such as the office furniture and machinery offered at Staples –gives consumers the opportunity to see and touch themerchandise they are interested in, and then order it online.
A choice of payment methods is another bonus to ordering viaan in-store Web kiosk. While most orders placed online from home requireconsumers to pay with a credit card, kiosks located in retailoutlets often let buyers choose to pay at the register withcash or a check.
Pure Plays Out
Despite the obvious benefits of kiosks, Loeberand Williamson agreed that kiosks from pure-play Internet sellers, such as Amazon.com, are probably not on the horizon.
Loeber pointed out that consumers would not take kindly tobeing told that the item they purchased through an Amazon kiosk has to be returned via the mail for a refund.
Although Web shoppers today are used to being told that theyhave to return their Internet purchases through the mail, in five yearsthat approach will be “completely unacceptable” to consumers,according to Williamson.
If Amazon did choose to venture into the real world via kiosks,Williamson said the e-tailer could structure deals with independentretailers similar to the affiliate programs currently inplace. For example, Amazon could leverage its existing partnershipwith Toys ‘R’ Us and put kiosks offering an expanded selection oftoys and children’s books in the toy seller’s brick-and-mortar outlets.
On the Back Side
Kiosks may be the most visible sign that the Web is invadingthe retail world, but they are not the only way retailersare using Internet technology to improve their bottom line.
In January for example, Maytag, in conjunction with Kodak and e-Vend.net, rolled out a camera and film vending machine that uses the Webto process credit card payment information.
“The Internet provides a cheap way for vendors to do thesekinds of things [such as process payments],” Williamson said.The analyst predicts there will be an increase in the use of the Internet for back-endtransaction processing.
Although consumers may not even be aware that such vendingmachines are using the Internet to process payments,those that are aware may end up with security and privacy concerns.
“A lot of the security concerns are perceptions created by themedia,” Loeber said.
However, Loeber added that “as long as there are no big planecrashes of online security that make the press,” consumers willgain acceptance of Internet payment processing.
What the Future Holds
One possible side effect of the kiosk phenomenon, according toWilliamson, is that retailers will build smaller stores andrely on kiosks to give customer access to a wide variety ofproducts.
The real test, according to both Williamson and Loeber, iscustomer acceptance.
“If they like [kiosks], we’ll see themeverywhere,” Williamson said.