Video Kiosk Retailing Is an Awkward Answer to E-commerce

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A man uses video kiosk retailing to buy products.

The future of traditional retail hinges on two conflicting desires–plenty of us still enjoy shopping online (in fact, 80 percent of Gen Zers look forward to in-store shopping), yet a declining number of us are actually doing so.

The reason for that awkward coexistence of facts is that brick-and-mortar retailers have never–before now–faced a remote shopping foe any stronger than catalogs and infomercials. The internet, however, and the e-commerce trade, provide an on-demand shopping experience unmatched in accessibility and choice.

As a result, traditional retail’s once unassailable position as the preferred way to shop has plummeted to a minimal statistical majority in little more than a decade. Now, a video conferencing vendor is offering Main Street retailers a way to fight back against declining foot traffic by bringing an element of e-commerce into their stores.

It’s called video kiosk retailing, and it’s a free solution that reverses the e-commerce structure. The only problem is that it’s a little bit awkward.

The Idea Behind Video Kiosk Retailing

A video kiosk is essentially a 21st-century version of the phone booth. You just replace the audio-only nature of the telephone with the two-way visual communication of a video conferencing call. The retailing side of these video kiosks stems from the fact that they’re limited to video calls with a store’s customer service staff.

In effect, a kiosk would allow a retailer to radically expand its offerings without paying for additional floor space or storage.

To implement video kiosk retailing, you’d set up such a kiosk in your retail outlet and allow your customers to make free video calls to discuss their shopping needs–seeking alternative products, colors, and payments not available in-store, for instance. In effect, a kiosk would allow a retailer to radically expand its offerings without paying for additional floor space or storage.

Video conferencing vendor TrueConf thinks so highly of the concept that they’ve made the software needed to operate such a kiosk available for free. Of course, you have to run the system through their media server and you still have to pay for the hardware and security to make it work, but TrueConf has packaged the software so it can be installed without IT expertise.

We know it’s an odd concept–but it does have precedent. Video kiosk technology is already being used by banks and healthcare providers as a way of merging traditional retail with the online world.

Virtual Tellers and Doctors

Video kiosks have recently begun appearing in Giant Eagle stores across Pittsburgh. The combined grocery and pharmacy retailer has partnered with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to offer customers in-store health consultations. Patients can use a live video conferencing link to speak with a doctor or nurse and receive an on-the-spot diagnosis and prescription. That prescription is then prepared in-store and available within minutes at a cost of up to $49 plus the price of the drugs.

Several major banks are in the process of closing down branches and downsizing others through the use of video conferencing banking kiosks.

The idea incorporates the ease of online services into the retail environment. It makes the in-store experience more efficient and prevents the store’s paying customers from getting their prescription elsewhere after seeing the doctor.

The same concept is currently being applied to banking. Several major banks, including Bank of America, are in the process of closing down branches and downsizing others through the use of video conferencing banking kiosks within the banks. These kiosks are a halfway point between online banking and traditional teller services that cater to the banks’ dwindling, though still substantial, walk-in traffic. Video kiosks have also been used as temporary pop-up stores in shopping malls, and, less successfully, in airports.

The problem with the plan to use such kiosks in commercial retail stores is that it ignores the presence of the most successful communications invention of the new century: the smartphone.

Why Not Just Use a Smartphone App?

There’s really no need to go to the trouble of installing a large video booth in your retail store when you can just refer customers to a video calling hotline. You don’t even have to go through the expense of building an app. Just advertise your video call center number in store, or create a direct connection using a visual, scannable QR code.

There’s no need to worry about the customer’s preferred video conferencing vendor, either. A number of WebRTC-based video callers are available that connect directly through web browsers such as Google Chrome–we’ve even reviewed some of the leading candidates, like Appear.In and Talky.

Research has shown that 54 percent of people still prefer to do their holiday shopping in stores rather than online.

Our conclusion? Don’t over-complicate matters. Research has shown that 54 percent of people still prefer to do their holiday shopping in stores rather than online. The most common reason given is that it provides shoppers with a chance to find one-of-a-kind items. In other words, traditional retail offers a unique, exploratory experience. Don’t derail that process by having the customer huddle inside a video booth. Instead, let them reach for their phone every time they feel the need to get a more thorough understanding of your store’s products.

With a two-way video call across a video-enabled smartphone, a customer can show the staff member on the other end of the line exactly what they’re looking at, and wander with them through alternative in-store offerings. With video kiosk retailing, on the other hand, the customer is chained to a corner of the store.

Traditional retail’s appeal can be expanded by reversing the e-commerce structure and bringing the online world in-store, rather than placing the in-store world online. In order to work, however, it needs to be flexible, mobile, and as accessible as a phone call.

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