As shopping malls and other large-scale public and private facilities strive to connect businesses with customers on a more personal level, organisations are making technology investments to help them learn about their customers and to provide services and transactions tailored to the individual, writes Claudio Bratovic.
Customers expect easy access to information nearly everywhere they go. They talk to digital assistants in their homes to get answers to questions, to automate many of life’s tasks and to transact shopping. This raises the bar for facility managers and creates an environment where visitors expect to easily find information when outside of the home.
Interactive digital signage and next generation kiosks are being deployed across Australia at an increasing rate, but what does this mean for retail managers? How can they ensure visitors are able to get information and a personalised experience even when there is not a person available to assist them?
The trend towards automating customer service in public spaces is being driven by governments who have a vision for smart cities that connect citizens to public service announcements and emergency services through digital portals. While many of the current ideas are typically targeted to the generalised public, new technologies entering the market allow facility managers to provide tailored information to individual citizens.
Kiosks and digital signage devices can provide a more personal experience if they can identify the customer. This is commonly done by reading a mobile coupon that is presented on the display of a mobile phone. In other cases, barcodes that appear on paper statements are often used to link to a customer’s account. For more secure transactions, a kiosk can verify a user’s identity by imaging a driver’s license or an identification (ID) card.
New digital portals can capture the identity of a user with higher accuracy. Customers can “opt in” to being identified when they present their driver’s license or ID card, or have their features matched against a profile in a database. But which technology is best suited to helping identify individuals so that personalised service can be offered through next generation digital signage or kiosks?
Facial recognition technology
Personal engagement starts by identifying the person. Facial recognition by machines has been used in many applications. A camera captures an image of the person and compares features of the face to a database to find the closest match. However, this technology has several drawbacks. The first limitation is social acceptance. Some people in other cultures may consider it a violation of their privacy to be watched, identified, or tracked by cameras. They often prefer to be in control and to present their ID when they want to be identified. Another limitation is that facial recognition cannot achieve the same accuracy as many competing technologies.
Two-dimensional image reading technology
Two-dimensional image readers are ubiquitous in access control applications where it is essential to identify the people who want to gain admittance. No other machine-readable technology has the accuracy of 2D barcodes because the inventors of these codes built in powerful mathematical codes that can detect and correct reading errors. The accuracy of 2D technology is so reliable that the technology is used to detect and correct errors in communication with satellites in deep space. Mathematicians have shown that the probability of a barcode error is roughly 1 in 100 million.
Retail facility managers will understand coupons have been used for decades to entice shoppers with incentives, but only recently have they been able to pinpoint individual shoppers. Before the technology for mobile coupons was developed, it was common for retailers to print pages of coupons with various offers to serve a wide group of would-be customers. Shoppers who were looking for a bargain would have to search through dozens of paper coupons to find offers that interested them.
Mobile coupons that are delivered to a person’s smartphone and tailored to their individual preferences are typically more likely to be seen and acted upon. In many cases, these coupons are used as a link between the digital world and the physical store. To complete the link, many retailers are installing 2D image readers in the store, whether it be in the check-out lanes or in a tablet computer that an employee carries. Sometimes shoppers are unable to find a store employee, but they can often find a price checker device that is mounted in store aisles to answer basic questions, like price. Retailers would like to reduce labour costs, but they risk damage to customer loyalty if it becomes too difficult for a customer to get answers to questions quickly and easily.
Enriching the customer’s experience
Kiosks and digital signage solutions are often being deployed in retail facilities to provide rich information about products. Instead of simply displaying the price of a product, if the kiosk is also showing a promotional video about the product, it is possible that the visitor’s interest will be roused and they may visit the promoted retailer to purchase the product.
By incorporating an advanced 2D image reader, such as Honeywell’s CM Series Compact 2D Imager Module for Kiosk Data Capture Operations, the kiosk could scan a mobile coupon that is displayed on the customer’s phone, instantly identifying the customer and the personalised offer. Once the customer is identified, the kiosk could look up the customer’s preferred size and colours. It could advise the customer about inventory and store location.
Security is a concern whenever information is accessed by a visitor to a facility. The need for security is especially important for facility managers where a kiosk may be set up to access sensitive personal data, or where a kiosk is used for a financial transaction. In these cases, a person may self-identify by scanning their ID card at the kiosk, and then the system performs a secondary authentication.
A common practice today is to send a unique code to the person’s smartphone. The code is displayed on the smartphone, which is scanned at the kiosk as a second level of authentication. Most people carry their smartphone with them, so while it may be possible for a thief to skim a credit card number, it is less likely that the thief will also have the victim’s smartphone and the ability to unlock the phone.
Facility managers responsible for a range of fashion or entertainment retailers commonly found in large-scale malls, can promote to stores the queue-busting benefits of new digital kiosks. For instance, movie-goers could purchase tickets for a show at home, and have a secure 2D code sent to their smartphone. When they arrive at the theatre, they can scan the code at a kiosk and it will print tickets, saving them from having to wait in line for the new blockbuster movie.
Next generation kiosks enhance visitor experiences
The adoption of smartphones and tablets is strong evidence that people are more comfortable using technology to access information on the Internet. A kiosk offers a similar user interface, and through the technology’s ability to securely identify individuals using a 2D code on an ID card, a mobile coupon, or a mobile ticket; facility manages can securely provide messages that are relevant to the individual to foster a positive customer service experience.
Bio: Claudio Bratovic is a retail and facilities technology leader and the ANZ Regional Manager for Honeywell. With 23 years of industry experience, Claudio is committed to helping Australian retailers and large-scale facilities fulfil their potential through innovation.
Images Courtesy of Honeywell