With 150 newly designed kiosks, Hudson's Bay Company is realizing these units can offer more than just an improved gift registry process.
A gift registry can both help and hurt a retailer. If done right, a gift registry, such as those used for brides, can mean guaranteed repeat business. But, if the registry takes too much time to use, or if the kiosk that houses the registry information is frequently broken, customers may be inclined to shop elsewhere.
As one of Canada's largest department store retailers, Hudson's Bay Company (Hbc) (Toronto) knows the value a good gift registry kiosk can offer. Since 1991, through its 100-store chain, the Bay, Hbc has been successfully using kiosks for gift registry. In fact, the Bay accounts for a large percentage of the gift registry business in Canada. Nevertheless, Hbc realized its aging kiosks needed updating. "They were large, boxy, and difficult to maintain, and their printers were slow," explained Gary Davenport, VP of information services at Hbc. "More importantly, though, they couldn't be integrated into our e-commerce site." When the kiosk technology Hbc was using became obsolete, the retailer could no longer purchase new units for additional stores. (Hbc also operates Zellers and Home Outfitters stores.) It was time for a new kiosk solution.
Monitor, Remotely Fix Kiosk Problems
During the pilot phase, Hbc evaluated four vendors' kiosks. In the end, the company chose IBM (Armonk, NY). According to Davenport, "IBM's kiosk had the smallest footprint, and they were willing to customize the design to our specifications. The final product required almost no assembly once it reached the store. After we install our software, we just plug the units into an Ethernet port."
In addition, Davenport said one of the biggest advantages the new IBM kiosks offered was remote diagnostic monitoring and support. Hbc can now monitor the Bay's kiosks from a central site, instead of relying on individual stores to report problems. Hbc can correct some situations remotely and can dispatch service as needed, often before any disruption in customer service ever occurs.
Hbc didn't stop at just improving the aesthetics of the kiosk hardware and adding remote systems management. With the new customer interface, advertising images and prices are more current than they were with the old. In addition, the kiosk printer is faster than the older version's, and customers can now search the inventory by category or price.
Less Time Inputting Data = More Time With Customers
Another new addition to Hbc's gift registry process is the wireless bar code scanner. In the past, customers who were creating a gift registry had to walk around with a clipboard and product listing and check off what they wanted. A sales associate then had to enter this information into the computer system. Depending upon the time of year, sometimes it would be days before this data would be entered.
Today, Hbc gift registry customers use a combination of Symbol (Holtsville, NY) RF (radio frequency) LRT 3800 scanners and P360 batch scanners to select the UPCs (universal product codes) of desired items. Once completed, sales associates place the batch scanner in a cradle, and the information is uploaded into the gift registry system automatically and immediately. That same information is then instantaneously available for viewing online as well. Early next year, Hbc plans to enhance its gift registry system by enabling the RF scanners to update information in real time. A registry is updated each time a customer purchases (either at the store or online) an item on the list. "The idea was to start to connect the bricks and clicks," Davenport said. "So, as we launched our Web site and dot-com business, we wanted to make sure we had a connection to the gift registry."
By using the scanners, Hbc is moving toward eliminating the errors and excess time associated with the old manual data entry process. Consequently, Hbc's salespeople have more time to spend with customers.
Go Beyond Just Gift Registry
Davenport said the company is currently investigating using the kiosks for customers who want to order items for themselves rather than for a gift registry. For example, the company recently conducted a pilot study in one of its smaller Zellers stores that didn't have the full inventory of a larger store. A kiosk with access to Hbc's e-commerce site (www.hbc.com) was installed at this location.
"As we grow, we see the kiosks augmenting our in-store inventories throughout Canada," Davenport said. "In the future, we also may use the kiosks for employees to access personal info such as benefit time."
In 2000, IBM had just seven weeks to equip 12 new Bay locations with the first of the custom-designed Hbc kiosks. Today, there are 125 kiosks in Bay stores and 25 more in Home Outfitters stores. Hbc's future plan is to also install the kiosks in the Zellers stores.