How to capture the spending power of the Hybrid Consumer

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Although the web has now changed the way we purchase everything from CDs and DVDs to Holidays, flights and hotel bookings, people, believe it or not, still want to get out of their houses and shop in person we are after all social animals argues Phil Hunter, Managing Director, KioskCom Europe Self Service Expo Europes premier event for interactive self service solutions

However now that we have had a taste of how easy and convenient buying can be on line we are less willing to stand in queues and have a limited choice of products and ranges when in-store and so we see the rise of the Hybrid Consumer.  We want the range of products we can easily access on line and we want the speed and ease of transaction the internet offers after all we can get all this serving ourselves at home so why not add these benefits to the in-store shopping experience?   .

There is now an intense battle raging for share of wallet of the Hybrid Consumer those moving between online and traditional interactions in search of the best customer experience. It is becoming patently clear that the Internet is not enough: successful multi-channel strategies require more than just online and traditional face to face options.

Key to satisfying the demands of the valuable Hybrid is the adoption of the latest self-service technology. Indeed, the increasing number of organisations now using self-service technology, are achieving a proven sales uplift of 6 to 8%, as well as gaining improvements in customer service and a flexible business model. 

In an increasingly competitive market, with fast rising customer acquisition costs, complacency demonstrated by many organisations could prove expensive. Self-service is becoming a critical component of overall strategy so as these technologies now come of age, can any customer facing organisation afford to miss out?

Self-Service Phenomenon

Over the past few years, the interest in self-service technologies has boomed as organisations look to leverage Internet-driven consumer familiarity with keyboards and touch screens to boost service and drive down costs.

However in many cases organisations have been doing little more than play with self-service technologies. But times are changing. As customer acquisition costs for online services rise significantly and competition grows, the easy profits are becoming harder to achieve.

At the same time, the quality of the online experience has given consumers a taste for more choice, for streamlined payments and immediate visibility of product availability expectations they are now taking with them to the face to face experience. 

This is not the time for complacency. But just how are organisations going to manage the changing expectations of the increasingly valuable hybrid consumer?

Proven Model

There are some great success stories notably the airline industry. According to a recent survey undertaken by SITA, the airline industrys move towards self-service is saving billions of dollars every year. Air Canada has confirmed it now costs $0.16 to check in travelers via a self-service kiosk as opposed to $3.68 to process the transaction via an employee.

And other industries are now following suit. Self-service kiosks in North American retail locations will rise 69% this year, according to Summit Research, and retailers show a six to eight percent increase in incremental sales when kiosks are placed in store.

Brave New World

Without doubt, the concept of self service is changing. Gone are the days of the dated vending machine that accepted limited coin options. With the rise in secure payments via Chip and PIN and the imminent arrival of card-based contact-less payments to replace sub 10 cash transactions, self-service technologies are really coming of age.

Indeed, some organisations are pushing the boundaries of self-service technologies. Last summer, designer retailer Ralph Lauren unveiled an innovative interactive shopping experience. A 67-inch image featuring the latest in touch sensory technology was projected on the window of the Ralph Lauren store at 888 Madison Avenue in New York City, allowing customers to shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week just by touching the window glass.

Other innovations include the vending machine that allows customers to download music to their iPods from the same machine that sells Coke and kiosks that can recharge your mobile phone, to contactless Minority Report Style motion sensor screens where you can activate buttons, turn pages and interact without even touching a screen.

Flexible Business Model

The uplift in sales opportunity is clear. And this is a key component of the self-service model. With organisations increasingly using analytics to tailor products and services to meet the needs of the local demographic, the kiosk enables a far broader product range to be available irrespective of actual space.

For the retailer struggling to attain adequate space in the high street or looking to trial new formats, a kiosk provides customers with access to online catalogues that encompass a far broader range of goods than could ever be carried in store.

Furthermore, the kiosk provides the hybrid customer with the required speed and quality of service experience without queuing or interacting with staff.

However, while the technology is increasingly attractive, it is critical that organisations leverage self-service technology correctly to deliver an excellent and relevant customer experience. As a Forrester report asserts, Kiosks are back on the retail radar screen due to increasing competition, technology advances, and changing consumer demands.

However, the report continues, Successful kiosks carry complex integration requirements and require careful consideration of consumer behaviour and their attitudes toward technology. To avoid the big flop that kiosks experienced in the late '90s, kiosks require a focused approach and dedicated support; if deployed well, kiosks will yield tangible business benefits.  However as most web sites now know, one bad experience means the ever fickle hybrid consumer will quickly go else where.

Getting it Right

Innovative self-service technology combined with secure payment methods may attract the hybrid consumer, but getting it right first time applies as much in the kiosk as it does online. A poor or inconsistent experience, backed up by inadequate fulfilment processes will fail.

Self-service technologies are not just another option for the emerging multi-channel business strategy, they will be increasingly critical in redefining the entire consumer experience.

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