The Yuletide Battle of Online Vs. Instore

Is there another way? asks Phil Hunter, Event Director, KioskCom Europes Self Service Expo 2007.

Far from the gold rush of yester year, in the wake of hiking interest rises and penny pinching, retailers may be in for a lean Christmas. But before they scale down their staffing and reduce their luxury lines it might be worth wondering why money savers and money spenders alike will still be flocking to the internet for their yuletide bargains.

The thrill of online purchasing is still shining brightly and this is for the traditional reasons; ease of browsing and ordering, large choice and variety and competitive pricing.  Retailers are slowly catching on that you can take the benefits of an online store and reproduce them on the highstreet with Interactive Self Service, allowing you to have the best of both the on and offline worlds. 

Self Service Technology and Kiosk Solutions are slowly becoming a more regular occurrence instore and are proving a popular choice amongst customers, and whilst a new deployment of the technology into store this year may not save profits for retailers this Christmas, the problem of penny pinching looks set to extend well into the New Year Sales and beyond.  So whats a retailer to do?

The deployment and implementation of self service satisfies a lot of the customers needs whilst creating an improved revenue for the company, whether this be through utilizing lost space or reducing staffing costs.  There has been a varied uptake in the kiosk revolution with airports and airlines first past the gate post, with big stores like Tesco, Argos, Sainsburys and Boots taking a steady pace across the finishing line. They have learnt through careful and considered deployment that self service can work on the highstreet and creates a way of having a broader product base and keeping prices competitive.

If retailers are to survive the online vs. highstreet battle they need to understand this technology and how it fits into the broader spectrum of their company remit, no longer can you survive instore or online alone, you must move with the times and create a shopping experience which allows consumers to have it all and have it now!

Self Service is becoming the way to bridge that gap and its success has been well documented. 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 travellers via a self-service kiosk as opposed to $3.68 to process the transaction via an employee.  If this level of cost saving can be reached on airline tickets it would seem reasonable that the savings to be had through highstreet stores is comparable.

How will this help Christmas?  Well as any good retail operation will know, it is vital to have your Christmas lines, however these can often mean bulky packaging, vast areas of prime space occupied and the light well and firmly turned off your regular lines.  Having a Seasonal kiosk would mean goods could be ordered cleanly and without the mechanising nightmare, the result means lower staffing costs and improved revenue.  Last year Ralph Lauren trialed an innovative form of self service by creating a touch screen on their store window, allowing customers to shop 24/7 -a gimmick yes but a reality, well it could be. It proved to be a popular choice and was backed up by successful fulfillment of orders.

Retailers will have to learn quickly if they are to survive this battle as it seems to be one which wont go away easily, and when it comes to satisfying customers why should it? Maybe it is a reflection of the time. With shows such as KioskCom Europes Self Service Expo rapidly expanding to accommodate the increasing visitor numbers it is surely an encouraging sign that retailers are grasping the concept with both hands.

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