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Shopping Kiosk Brings Online Benefits To The Store

PALO ALTO, Calif. – HP previewed the latest work from its HP Labs here, an interactive shopping kiosk it expects to pilot with a few retail customers later this year. The HP Retail Assistant is meant to help improve what HP said is an ecosystem of manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

HP already offers a self-service photo kiosk used by several retail chains, that's designed to help consumers get prints from their digital cameras. The Retail Store Assistant is designed to augment customer service and personalize the shopping experience.

In a demo at its offices, HP  officials showed how a customer could swipe a loyalty card or enter their phone number to get a ready list of coupon offers based on their past shopping history.

For example, if someone buys yogurt every week, the system would include a yogurt coupon. Based on frequency and volume of purchase, the system would "reward" the best customers with the best discounts.

HP Retail Store Assistant
The swipe of a loyalty card makes shopping smarter.
Source: HP

The kiosk has a built-in printer to print the coupon page along with direction on how to find the items in the store. The coupon page has a bar code so the order information is all scanned and accounted for at checkout.

The Retail Store Assistant's built-in video camera could provide an interactive video chat with a specialist in the store or at a remote location to provide help and advice on what to buy. The video section could also provide how-to videos on such things as home improvement and gardening projects with relevant coupons and ads included, and also be used for in-store training.

For HP, the potential is about more than selling the kiosk. These systems print color fliers, which ties into HP's print and ink business. But more significantly, the personalization aspect relies on mining customer data from servers and data warehouse systems HP also hopes to supply. The kiosk and related services might be sold, leased or financed in other ways; for example, HP has revenue sharing agreements with some of its photo kiosk customers.

There are plenty of options at the kiosk for finding information, but for the typical shopper in a hurry, a quick scan of the card and press of the "Print & Go" button will get you a print out of your coupon page. The kiosk might also function as a kind of personal registry. For example, a husband shopping for a birthday present for his wife, could access a past history of clothing items and preferences at a participating retailer.

"Shopping today is more than buying an item, it's about making a meal, or planning a party," said Mohamed Dekhil, manager of retail applications in the digital imaging and print lab at HP Labs. In fact, the system will "help" plan your part or event with shopping suggestions and remind you about items you regularly purchase.

The system has been in development for close to two years. HP said it's consulted with all the major retail chains in trying to figure out the best features to include. "It's been a conversation, we're not an ivory tower," said Henry Sang, department manager, publishing systems & technology department at HP. "With the top-notch retailers, it's all about getting and retaining loyalty."

HP thinks it can help retailers gain that loyalty with the kind of personalized service and deals the kiosk provides. The system will also be accessible via the Web allowing consumers to check on items before they go to the store. HP said it's also experimenting with how mobile phone users could interact with the system and gain instant access to deals and personalized shopping lists.

For retailers, there's the potential for much more targeted and real time marketing since sales figures generated by the kiosk are readily available.

While it's unclear what the total cost would be to deploy Retail Store Assistant, Sang said HP is getting a lot of interest. He said one major electronics retailer has discussed deploying ten per store. Dekhil said the kiosk would be far more effective than current marketing tools like the mass mail ad fliers he dismissed as "impersonal junk mail."