The kiosk market has been on the verge of proliferation for at least five years. With the dawning of each new year, promises abound that it will be this year that kiosks stamp their mark across retail, having matured technologically and emerged from a sea of scepticism on their real viability for long-term unattended performance and measurable ROI, writes Annette Tarlton, Marketing Manager, EMEA, POS Printer Manufacturer, Star Micronics.

But with each wave of optimism for kiosks, comes a torrent of criticism. This time around, those of a negative mindset say that the market is in a state of flux; that the armies of kiosks predicted to conquer retail have fallen by the wayside. But thats not the complete picture there are many who are soldiering on and winning retail business in applications requiring kiosk installations ranging between 50 and 200 units per annum. And the escalating number of proven applications further shatter the myth that the market is faltering.

In-store applications range from the provision of useful information designed to help consumers navigate the store, locate specific products or feed the imagination with suggestions for anything from recipes to gifts. Whilst Boots the Chemist has spearheaded the use of loyalty card kiosks, many other retailers are quietly following suit, albeit on a smaller scale. The concept of installing kiosks to top up mobile phone pay-as-you go cards was inspired, as is that of issuing tickets for anything from theatres and theme parks to public transport, car parks and lottery-players. Multimedia has also found a home in kiosks, providing interactive communication for route planning, car hire, tourist information or online shopping to name but a few applications. Clearly, the market is not in a state of flux but is flourishing as the numbers of viable applications burgeon.

The market has matured as a comprehensive understanding of the benefits that kiosks can bring has broadened and the cost of the technology has decreased. Sound familiar? Like many technology solutions before them, kiosks have had to reach this stage in their development to become financially accessible by a greater number of customers with smaller, but lucrative applications. Greater sales volume equals lower prices equals greater sales volume, and so it goes on.

Kiosk printing was perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome for developers. Touch screens and the data processing have for a long while been proven in the kiosk market. Printers however, had to evolve to offer reliable and long-term unattended performance, easy maintenance access and remote communications facilities as fundamental capabilities. But it has been imaginative feature development that transposes the kiosk from a basic box to an attractive proposition with real value.

Fundamental to kiosk printer design must be large capacity paper rolls accommodating different paper widths, presenters that negate the majority of potential jams, autocutters, remote monitoring facilities to detect and provide alerts for possible faults and the need for new paper rolls; as well as easy access to the printer mechanism itself and simply paper loading all with a view to long-term unattended operation and minimal engineer intervention.

But it is the advanced functionality of printers that adds the real value to kiosks. The ability to automatically generate coupons, vouchers and advertising banners on the receipts, simply, using WindowsTM and in response to the individual consumers transaction. Called AutoLogoTM, this immediately positions the kiosk as a marketing tool, and enables the initiation and cessation of multiple promotions instantaneously, but with no dependency on IT support or expensive system software changes.

The availability of scalable raster drivers delivers what is in essence A4 print content in an A5-sized printer. Scaling down information to fit 112mm/4- receipt paper throws open the doors to applications such as in-store wedding lists, multimedia information and website downloads for Internet cafes.

If thermal printing isnt appropriate, matrix-based kiosks can still provide an auditing facility via the use of features like 2nd Copy Raster, a function that creates a duplicate of each transaction, either in paper format or electronically.

And modular design provides OEMs with free reins on kiosk configuration and to install quality printing regardless of kiosk design, shape or limitations on space.

With the advances that have been made in kiosk printing, the OEMs only decision should need to be which printer best offers the features and functionality specified to match the clients objectives. And it is this seemingly innocuous point about which a debate is quietly gathering apace: should the printer be a plug-in, packaged printer or a dedicated printing mechanism developed specifically for printers? The answer is obvious it really doesnt matter. The technological and brand-leading kiosk printer manufacturers should offer both alternatives, as well as models designed specifically to suit particular vertical markets. Just as imagination has been deployed to deliver printers that provide kiosks with tangible advantages, imagination and a clear understanding of the customers needs are all that is required in choosing the best printer for the job in hand. Do they want dedicated kiosk printers with their inherent open frame and perhaps, modular design with extra large paper capacity and special presenters? Or would they prefer a packaged POS printer the can be easily swapped in and out, providing additional application versatility? The customers idiosyncratic needs should be listened to and the best printing solution selected to do the job within budget.

Having found its place and proven its worth, the kiosk is here to stay.

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