Foodservice Kiosk Usage Grows
In addition to the large chains like Sheetz and Wawa that have been using self-service kiosks for many years, smaller chains are also enjoying the benefits of self-serve technology.
• High’s of Baltimore Inc. reached a deal with Radiant Systems last July to deploy multiple Radiant customer self-service kiosks in more than 50 of the mid-Atlantic retailer’s 82 High’s Dairy Stores.
•”Experience, reliability and ease-of-use were keys to our decision,” said Benjamin Jatlow, special projects manager at High’s. “We looked at several players in the self-service market and went with Radiant for their experience delivering high quality and proven solutions that improve the consumer experience.”
Using Radiant’s graphical and intuitive touch-screen kiosks, High’s customers will have the opportunity to custom order menu offerings such as breakfast items, subs, wraps, soups, salads, and High’s famous hand-dipped ice cream. High’s is a privately owned and operated company based in Hanover, Md. The company operates 82 convenience stores in Maryland and Delaware.
• In October, The Spinx Co. Inc. in Greenville, S.C., began deploying Radiant Systems’ point-of-sale and customer self-service technology to more than 40 of its convenience stores.
“The mission of The Spinx Co. is to make people’s lives easier,” said Stewart Spinks, founder and CEO of Spinx. “We believe Radiant’s point-of-sale and self-service solutions are the best choice to help us achieve our organization’s goals.”
Key criteria in Spinx’s selection of Radiant were support of a wide variety of consumer-marketing programs, enhanced speed of service and support of the retailer’s sophisticated foodservice operation. The Radiant solution integrates Spinx’s PDI back office using the industry-standard PCATS-NAXML interface.
Much like self-service checkouts, foodservice kiosks give c-store operators an opportunity to speed service, allocate labor dollars more efficiently, upsell menu items and reduce order errors. And while most players continue to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, many are already moving forward.
And not a moment too soon for consumers, who have come to expect fast electronic service at everything from ATMs to airports check-in counters, cashier stands at supermarkets, home improvement stores and mass merchandisers, and their own PCs.
Across the retail industry, customer service in recent years has meant self-serve aided by touchscreen kiosks. As digital kiosks become more user-friendly and capable of handling more complicated tasks, convenience stores and fast food chains are trading face-to-face encounters for face-to-monitor transactions to improve service and reduce operating costs. Yet the complexity of human decision-making and service expectations likely means any possible self-serve revolution is more likely to be a gradual transition.
The convenience store industry is listening:
• 7-Eleven Inc.’s success with its Vcom kiosks is well known. Vcom is a self-serve, fully automated, web-enabled kiosk that merges the capabilities of an ATM with the benefits of the Internet. When introduced in 2002, the units provided financial services beyond those of a conventional ATM including money orders, money transfers and check cashing. They later expanded the capabilities to allow consumers to pay bills, make deposits, buy tickets, obtain travel directions and road maps and more.
•Quick Chek Corp. in Whitehouse Station, N.J., has also gotten interesting results with a food kiosk ordering system in more than 100 locations in the Northeast. The operator says it hopes to realize a three-year cumulative ROI of more than 150%. They also report that food order sizes have increased, customers are spending more time shopping and less time waiting and labor efficiency is better. Using the audio-enabled and multi-lingual system, consumers can place sandwich orders on animated and interactive touch screens throughout the store that are connected to the kitchen prep area and POS.
• In March, Wawa launched a pilot program at two Malvern, Penn., locations for a new service that allows customers to pre-order food through text messages or online. The text and online service is expected to roll out at eight additional Philadelphia-area locations in the next month or two, according to Bob Riesenbach, Wawa’s manager of new initiatives. Customers using the system can pre-order the food via the internet, through text messaging or with a smart phone such as an iPhone or Blackberry. They simply place their orders, have their payment processed automatically, and pick up their food or drink without ever waiting in line. When ordering coffee, a cup size is specified and a cup sleeve with an orange pre-paid sticker is added. The customer can fill the cup, customize the beverage and go without having to stand in line.
Bright As Can Be
The future for technologies like food-service kiosks in the c-store channel is “as bright as can be,” said Mark Lilien, management consultant and a partner in the Retail Technology Group in Stamford, Conn. “To me it’s the same as an ATM. There was a time when banks just wouldn’t install them, or they would install only one. Even if they had 12 banks in a given area, only one of the branches would have a single ATM. Now, I don’t think you can have a bank without an ATM. The banking industry was remarkably slow about adopting ATMs, and I think this is the same thing. But once someone does any reasonable testing of this technology they’re going to love it, and they are going to love it for several reasons.”
C-store retailers that want to provide foodservice are driven by a couple of key principles, said John Saccomanno, director of industry marketing for NCR. “One is that it allows their stores to be a destination place. Second, it allows them to sell products that tend to be higher margin than the typical items you would buy in a convenience store.”
The problem, he added, is that such technology “can be high cost. The value proposition of providing a kiosk in a food-service environment is that the labor that you spend in a foodservice environment can now be dedicated to preparing the meals. You free up those people to prepare food, and then you provide a solution for customers to input their own food orders.”
The procedure is simple: the customer approaches the kiosk and places an order. The kiosk communicates the order to the food preparation area. The meal is provided and payment accepted. The integrated touchscreens themselves can be the size of a small computer laptop briefcase, perhaps as small as two square feet. Placing it on a freestanding pedestal means ensuring it won’t get knocked over.
The key to reaping the benefits of kiosks is finding the optimal way to “fit it into your work flow,” Saccomanno said. “It’s a production work flow, so you have to consider things like, ‘I may make ordering more convenient and faster, but by doing so am I causing a blockage in the production area? Because it is so fast now for consumers to order it just might cause problems in the food-preparation area.”
7-Eleven’s success with kiosks, Saccomanno added, “demonstrates that the convenience store is a practical fit for self-service technology.”
In Praise of Testing
“Here’s what I don’t understand,” Lilien said. “In classic fast food restaurants people can order by touchscreen, in theory, and the people working behind the counter could just deliver them their food. The labor productivity within the store, and the accuracy, would be a lot greater you would think. Yet almost no fast food stores are set up that way.”
Just as interesting, Lilien pointed out, is the fact that “frequently the cashiers themselves will do the touchscreens. The menus are of limited size, so you would think the customers could use the touchscreen, too. And so the people who are really the professionals in the quick-service industry don’t seem to want to use that technology themselves for their own customers.” (See sidebar.)
Plus, Lilien said it is “a lot easier to interact with a machine than it is with another human being. A retailer, whether it’s a convenience store or a quick-service restaurant, wants to spend as little as possible on labor. If you can find a technology that can more easily meet the needs of peak-period congestion, then it’s a home run for you. Customers don’t really like standing around, and it is absurd to think that your staff is so charming that your customers really want to have a meaningful friendly conversation with them. Customers don’t.”
Lilien calls limited testing of self-service touchscreen technology “well worthwhile, if you are a convenience store operator who has a reasonable sized chain. I’m not talking about just a couple of stores, but if you have a chain of 100 or more stores you can test it in only a couple of locations and see what happens. You’re not going to ruin your whole business.” CSD