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New kiosk tech offers more retailtainment

With 20 years of retail experience under his belt, Noah Shopsowitz knows that when kids walk into a store to check out the hot toy du jour, a store set-up that's designed with adults in mind can often sap their enthusiasm. At home, favorite characters and brands are constantly accessible--whether it be through TV, the Internet, books or magazines. But when they come into a store, they're faced with the retailer's merchandising plan--long aisles of product stacked high to the ceiling.
September 1, 2001

With 20 years of retail experience under his belt, Noah Shopsowitz knows that when kids walk into a store to check out the hot toy du jour, a store set-up that’s designed with adults in mind can often sap their enthusiasm. At home, favorite characters and brands are constantly accessible–whether it be through TV, the Internet, books or magazines. But when they come into a store, they’re faced with the retailer’s merchandising plan–long aisles of product stacked high to the ceiling.

‘It’s an overwhelming experience for a kid because there’s very little connection between that environment and the one where they made the initial decision to buy the item,’ says Shopsowitz, a major account executive for retail interactive at King Products, a Toronto, Canada-based company that designs way-finding systems for shopping malls and office buildings. However, with King’s new electronic shopping aid eShoppingSpree, Shopsowitz believes he has the product that can bridge the gap between a kid’s media-rich home life and his trip to the store.

Part navigation device, part marketing tool, eShoppingSpree is a touch-screen kiosk that stores up to six gigabytes worth of product information, in both text and video forms. The 15-inch screen can comfortably display 10 logos, which consumers can use to search for products by brand, price, category and target age. Once you’ve selected a product, the device pulls up a map showing where it’s located in the store.

The goal of eShoppingSpree is to help expedite the shopping process and to make it more entertaining. ‘Say a kid wanted to look up a Star Wars toy. When he touches the product on the screen, you could have a character from the movie talking and guiding him through the products that are available,’ says Shopsowitz.

That sensory aspect is crucial to creating an exciting retail experience, says Shopsowitz; it harkens back to the earliest markets where the smell of bread and the feel of fabric would help to entice shoppers.

Though he feels the device is relevant across all retail categories, Shopsowitz believes the high-impulse nature of selling branded kids products, not to mention the sheer volume of SKUs available, makes it the ideal setting to launch the technology.

‘A guy at Nickelodeon told me that if you walk into a Kmart, you can find close to 100 SKUs with a Blue’s Clues character or logo on them. A Kmart shopper might know of a Blue’s Clues video title or plush toy, but they’re certainly not aware that there are 100 products. That represents a major hole in what I’d call a retailer’s brand merchandising plan,’ says Shopsowitz.

All of the terminals–which Shopsowitz suggests positioning either in departments, near the front of stores or in out-of-the-way areas beside escalators and elevators–are networked and can be updated remotely. The web-enabled system will also offer applications for in-store promotions, such as live video conferencing between kids in different locations and the ability for consumers to print coupons. The device could also be configured to allow customers to order out-of-stock product, check up on past purchases, and find out about future discounts.

Though Shopsowitz did design a console for Michael Jackson’s company MJNet to help promote the popster’s properties at the Licensing Show in June, so far retailers aren’t showing much appetite for eShoppingSpree. King began demoing it for both retailers and licensors last January, but at press time, no companies had signed on to test the system. Part of their reluctance can be attributed to the economic slowdown, theorizes Shopsowitz, though the price–each terminal costs US$5,000–and deciding who should pay for it, retailers or licensors, is also a stumbling block.

Raymond Burke, a business professor at Indiana University who studies how technology is changing the way retailers interact with customers and who hopes to use eShoppingSpree in a future pilot study, believes there’s strong consumer demand for such devices. According to an IU study published last year, 84% of consumers surveyed felt that stores should contain interactive kiosks. The majority of respondents ranked printing coupons and scanning for a product’s price as the top applications they would want a kiosk to feature.

Though retailers have been slow to get on board, Shopsowitz is confident they eventually will and speculates that the device’s acceptance will track closely to the popularity of halogen lighting.

‘Halogen lighting was around for quite some time before it was integrated into most retail design schemes because it was expensive. Today, it’s the standard. But retailers first had to recognize its value,’ says Shopsowitz. ‘That’s where we are right now with eShoppingSpree.’

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