February 14, 2001
Bringing the Internet into your store can help you convert store customers into Web customers
Over the last year, many bricks-and-mortar stores have toyed with the idea of bringing the Internet into their physical stores through Web kiosks, in-store computers that allow customers to shop at the store's online counterpart. The idea is to help customers become comfortable shopping online while making it simpler for customers to order merchandise that's out of stock. Barnes & Noble, Kmart and Stapes are a few of the stores planning to use or already using kiosks.
Many stores hope the kiosks will pushing new users to the Web. Since many consumers don't shop online because they are afraid to or they just don't know how, having a computer in the store to demonstrate the features of your site can help alleviate fears and first-time user jitters. However, you need more than just the computer. The store staff must have enough knowledge of the Web site as well as privacy, safety and shipping issues to answer customers' questions. If the staff can't explain the benefits of the site or reassure customers it's safe to transmit credit card numbers online, it may make customers more hesitant to use your Web site.
Bringing new customers to your site isn't the only benefit of in-store kiosks. Many retailers find kiosks are a cost-effective way to expand the number of products available and provide more information about those products. In many cases it's too expensive or risky to carry extra merchandise in stores. However, having a store kiosk makes it possible to show customers images of products you don't have in stock while still giving them the comfort of being in the store where they are able to touch similar merchandise. If you are affiliated with a company like Enjewel, the kiosk could provide another way for your customers to purchase merchandise you don't carry without taking the sale away from you (see related article about Enjewel). In addition, with an efficient e-commerce system, your staff can use the kiosk to place special orders and orders for out-of-stock merchandise for customers.
If you decide a kiosk is right for your store, you need to decide what type you want. The simplest route is to put a computer with Internet access in a central place in your store. Set the computer up with a Web browser set to your store's Web site, and make sure the default home page is your site. This will make it simple for customers to walk right up to the kiosk and start exploring your Web site. Remember, if your site doesn't have high-quality images and detailed product descriptions, customers won't benefit from using the store kiosk to find products or information. The kiosk should provide more information than an average sales person could.
While simple Web site kiosks are good, many e-commerce analysts say kiosks should be more interactive than just a Web site and have larger buttons or touch screens. Some suggest having custom kiosks that highlight all of your products as well as allow online ordering. For most smaller stores, this isn't necessary. Unless your product line is overwhelming in size and you have extra money to spend on a custom kiosk, a simple Internet-ready computer such as an iMac is fine. Remember to put your kiosk in an accessible and noticeable area, and you may want to put a sign or instructions on it so customers aren't confused about what it's for.
- by Julia M. Duncan