Evolution of the kiosk: From information to increasing spend

kioskProving there is an expo, conference and concomitant awards for just about anything, the announcement two weeks ago at the Interactive Customer Experience Association that US-based Panera Bread Company – an early innovator of kiosks – had taken out the ICX Influencer of the Year award piqued my interest and prompted me to investigate retail kiosk innovation.

A 2017 study into self service kiosks by Research and Markets found the interactive kiosk market is globally growing at a compound annual growth rate 11.81 per cent.

According to kioskindustry.org, interactive retail kiosks are the largest segment of deployed kiosks.

Analysts estimate that retail kiosks comprise at least 30 per cent of the entire self-service kiosk market.

What are kiosks used for?

  • Information: Wayfinding directories, employment, product lookup and company information.
  • Promotion: Targeted offers and loyalty program signups.
  • Ordering: Both what’s in stock and what is out of stock.
  • Navigation: For multiple tasks ranging from order status and tracking queries to product availability.
  • Decision making: Use of customer reviews to assist with product selection.
  • Interaction:  Customers have direct access to physical products, catalogue and sales associates in one convenient place.
  • Overcoming barriers: A study by The National University of Singapore found when a liquor store changed from face-to-face to self-service, the market share of difficult-to-pronounce items increased 8.4 percent.

Kiosk pioneers

For uses other than pure information and/or moving away from closed-system information to connectivity and links to other channels:

  • 2012: Panera Bread (USA) installed a kiosk at its Boston Fenway Park location, where in a short time, 60 per cent of its lunchtime transactions came through the kiosk. As at April 2016 it had kiosks installed in 400 restaurants and planned to have them in virtually all of its approximately 2,000 outlets by 2019.
  • 2013: Tesco (UK) tested a self-service touchscreen kiosk where customers could peruse online items, use barcode scanners for product ratings, reviews and suggested accessories, and make purchases using chip and pin.
  • 2014: Bloomingdales (USA) rolled out kiosks in the form of wall-mounted tablets at five of its 37 stores. Connecting to the store’s inventory, the kiosks answered both store staff and customer questions about available sizes and alternate colours, as well as providing customer reviews and ratings.

2015 appears to have been a banner year for kiosk development and deployment. Some examples:

  • Spanish clothing giant Zara installed iPad kiosks in their change rooms in late 2015, allowing customers to request clothing to try on.
  • US electronics retailer Best Buy launched its gift registry service and app with in-store kiosks at all their stores to help registrants and gift-givers view and print wedding registry lists.
  • In Australia, Sanofi’s award-winning Diabetes Health Hub used a tablet combined with shelf lighting system to help shoppers navigate the vitamins and supplements category by combining product information with illumination highlighting the selected products at shelf.
  • Also in Australia, Target extended its price check stations to become assisted ordering kiosks.

Recent innovations

Similar to the Sanofi example, German-based liquor store BASF is using kiosks combined with RFID tags as a virtual sommelier. Shoppers enter their wine preferences on a tablet connected to a digital shelf. Bottles with the features they prefer then light up, with additional information about the wine selected.

France-based sports apparel retailer Decathlon, now in Australia, uses NFC technology at kiosks and fitting rooms so customers can view product details and reviews, variations, related products and order products online. Decathlon also have an app that can be used in-store to discover product details via NFC and/or barcodes.

There’s now a blurring of the lines between interactive digital signage, and kiosks which has increasingly led the various interactive customer experience and self-service industry associations to include digital signage in their remits.

Benefits and challenges


  • Customer profiling: customers logging in, seeking out and looking up provides a wealth of information about who’s shopping in a retailer’s store, when and what exactly they’re seeking. This in turn feeds into the shopping experience, allowing retailers to schedule staff accordingly, cross-promote products, ensure necessary stock is at hand and further improve the customer experience.
  • In-store product ordering kiosks reduce on-hand inventory and associated warehouse costs.
  • Wayfinding directory kiosks reduce employee headcount and improve customer service.
  • Kiosks offering promotional opportunities through coupon printing and other targeted offers increase revenues.
  • Loyalty cards reward frequent customers, increasing brand loyalty.
  • Virtual sales assistance for customers.
  • Expanding a retailer’s footprint via standalone locations.
  • Redeploy staff to increasing revenues.
  • Eliminate customer time spent standing in the queue.
  • Increase in customer transaction values: When global foodservice operator Sodexo installed kiosks at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl, the kiosks delivered a 24 percent to 26 percent increase in average transaction value, credited largely to upselling and improved order accuracy.

The ability to tailor products at the kiosk has resulted in increased spend in some instances. Harvard Business Review says orders at Taco Bell made via their digital app were 20 percent pricier than those taken by human cashiers, largely because people select additional ingredients. Chili’s, after installing self-service tablets, reported a similar increase in dessert orders as with McDonald’s Australia’s Create Your Taste option.

  • Elimination of man-hours and reduced labour costs: Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores (USA) said the biggest benefit from their kiosks were the ease of signing people up for their loyalty program. Instead of having to have people call customer service and have a customer service rep gather information, or create queues at the checkout while signing customers up, the cashier directed the customer to a kiosk to enter their information themselves.

On the minus side, there is a public perception that kiosks may ‘take away real staff’s jobs’, which misses the point that the labour then required is in the development of the kiosk and its technological capabilities. The jobs don’t disappear, they shift into the development of the service, and store staff can be deployed elsewhere.


  • They may not be for everyone: Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores introduced 470 touchscreen kiosks and 2,330 digital touchscreens to gain control of its customer messaging. However, the touchscreens in its truck stops did not initially get much use from customers (middle-aged truck drivers) since they weren’t familiar with them.

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

  • Tailoring can prove difficult and demand may outstrip supply: Sodexo manages content for 2,500 clients and 5,000 kiosks across Europe and North America. Content needs vary among its customers and requires tailoring. This is a challenge as Sodexo relied on its food and beverage vendors for digital content.

 In addition, 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. Another challenge for the company was finding a reliable payment mechanism for the kiosks as the first two vendors’ products did not work consistently.

A cursory count of the pros versus the cons indicates that the former outweighs the latter by some margin, but as with any retail deployment the strategy needs to be thought through for the role that kiosks can play, its purposes and omnichannel interfaces, before installing them for technology’s sake.

Norrelle Goldring has 20 years’ experience in retail, category, channel and customer strategy, marketing and research, working in and with global retailers, manufacturers and research houses.


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