I have written before about how my kids are often embarrassed of me in public because I stop and stare at technology, or, even worse, ask questions and take pictures. So was the case recently on a trip when we stopped in the Big Apple. At the register there are now digital touch screens, with which the customer can interact. There was no one behind us in line so I started looking around at the technology and trying to get a name brand. I also asked the cashier several questions about the device to see what information I could glean as I snapped away pictures on my phone. Luckily, this time I was with my son Christopher, who is much more accepting of these “geek” missions than my daughter.
The screens are rather large; I would estimate 28” inches tall by 18” inches wide. This provides a lot of screen real estate, so it is very easy to read and interact. The screen faces the customer directly and based on its close location to the customer side of the counter, it feels very natural to interact with.
Many stores now have displays that face the customer and indicate what is being scanned and added to their bill. It is a great resource for the customer to make sure they are getting charged only for what they purchased and that they are not getting over-charged. The display at Big Apple also shows this information and does it in a way that is very easy to read — so far, a big win for customer service.
What popped up on the screen next is what really got my wheels turning. It was a big red button, reminiscent of the Staples Easy Button. The instructions on the screen said, ‘When you see this button, press it. If you see an item you want, but don’t want to wait in line again select it and it will be added to your cart.’ I believe the concept here is to tempt someone at the last minute as they stand at the register, but would normally not purchase something because they don’t want to stand in line again. So, let’s say it is 7 a.m., I am on my way to work for the day and stop in to grab a Diet Coke for later in the day. As I am being checked out, I see an add pop up on the screen for a steaming hot cup of coffee. I had planned on swinging by Dunkin’ Donuts, but here I am right now and can get it. I tap the button; it’s added to my cost and off I go.
After the transaction was completed, I was faced with a screen that asked me to rate my experience. I had a scale from 1-5, Bad to Excellent. I chose excellent and the screen flipped to an ad to wait for the next customer. I wanted to play with it some more, and see what would happen if I selected Bad.
Would it ask me why?
Would it ask for details so they could contact me?
Most importantly, would the cashier immediately know what I had pressed?
This is one of the aspects I love most about technology and digital signage. The ability for thoughtful, creative people to innovate and come up with new ways of putting the technology to use. Additionally, I think this is only the beginning of how this technology could be used. I could see this easily expanding to clothing stores, where they show you ads based on what you bought. New pants? How about this belt? Ten percent off if you press the button now!
So, that is what I love about technology. What I don’t love about technology is when it gets pushed out before it is ready. (If you want another example, read my column about the digital menus in Newark airport.) This is one of those situations. For starters, even though while I was waiting to pay I stalled by asking the cashier several questions about the technology and taking stealthy pictures, I was never prompted by the big red button. I saw an ad for coffee, but it was 95 degrees out and 3 in the afternoon. I had bought a bottle of water, so coffee seemed like a weird targeted ad. In any case, the ad did not have the big red button. Therefore, in my case it turned out be to nothing more than a very expensive digital register of the single item I bought.
Furthermore, the several questions I asked of the cashier (whose name tag revealed her to be the Assistant Manager) were answered with a shrug of the shoulders and “I don’t really know.” The questions were not technical; they were “How does this work?” and “When do I see the big red button?” Please understand — this is not an indictment of the cashier, but rather the management people who had this equipment installed with no training or support for their employees. A horrible way to deploy new technology.
Finally, the question about customer service brought me back to last month’s column. Why were they taking the time to collect this data, and what would they do with it? Let’s face it: Convenience stores are in existence for just that, convenience. Customer service is really a limited factor. There are a couple of people behind the register and they just ring you out. It’s not as though they are out in the store to help you. So, why ask about customer service? What good does that question do if it is not being used for some further purpose? Additionally, is that really the most important question to ask? Aren’t there more important questions that could be asked of a customer at that last moment? How about cleanliness of store? Did you find what you wanted? Did you get served in a fast manner?
Despite some of these smaller flaws, it is very clear to me that these types of digital signs are going to continue expand into stores, of all types. I am looking forward to seeing the exciting and innovative uses of them.