The Future of Kiosks

Each of us is entrenched in the vast world of technology, whether we know it or not. Moore’s Law suggests that computer processing speed doubles every 18 months.  Some experts believe that gap is narrowing in many tech areas.

On a daily basis, it isn’t uncommon for us to encounter new concepts of Internet of Things (IoT) applications and glance over them as if they’ve always been a part of our lives. The digital sign outside of your favorite outlet store or the self-checkout system at your local hardware store, these are all IoT devices.

Go back fifteen years from now and it was a print billboard, an in-person checker, and a cashier sitting in a booth to take your money and let you leave. These subtle changes are happening around us every single day and most of us fail to notice them.

IoT is very real and as a society, we’ll continue to become reliant on machines to handle many of our daily activities.

I spent some time in Southern California recently and had my first encounter with ordering my McDonald’s food through a kiosk. In full disclosure (and coming from someone that is fairly tech savvy), the process was not as seamless as one would hope.

In a traditional fast food ordering scenario, one can step up and spout off a very detailed order for multiple individuals and pay for their food all within the matter of 45 seconds to a minute.

To order for two on the kiosk, I had to identify different sections for the different types of food, find the exact item, review the ingredients to add or remove, back to the main menu, repeat, back to the main menu, repeat again, find the drink options, and so on.

I expect from start to finish on my first McDonald’s kiosk use, I spent roughly four and a half minutes ordering for two people. Admittedly, I’m sure the process will speed up each time I go through it but on first glance, it seemed so backward thinking to me.

Why would a corporation implement a new kiosk system that slows the ordering process and puts more work on the customer? Although the reasons vary from company to company, I tend to believe that there are two main drives for this shift.

First, as a society in general, we are becoming more inclined to bypass the human element and handle our business through a screen (either a smart phone screen or a kiosk screen). The second would be a simple dollars and cents concept.

If you own a burger and fry franchise that is open for 16 hours per day and you average three cashiers at all times all making $10/hour, that payroll cost is roughly $14k per month or $168k per year. If you instead put in 10 kiosks, even at $10,000 per kiosk (which is likely estimating high), you are better off financially after the eighth month.

Historically, it seems that generations demanded the human interaction and any company that removed that would risk their customer-base fleeing to the next competitor in order to deal with a real person. As we continue to gravitate away from this need for human interaction, it only makes sense for businesses to make a substantial upfront investment in order to cut down on long-term costs.

Additionally, if a customer is ordering their own cheeseburger and neglect to add or remove certain ingredients while they’re ordering, you’ve now been able to shift the blame from your employee to your customer. And the customer is always right… except for when they’re wrong.

Of course most business owners would happily remake a cheeseburger with the corrected ingredients but as a consumer, if I made my own mistake placing my own order and can’t blame anyone but myself, am I still inclined to march to the counter and demand someone else take the blame for mistakes that were clearly my own? Only time will tell but I would certainly hope not.

The above outlines one type of kiosk that I’ve recently had personal experience with. However, the world of kiosks is growing rapidly.

Here are a few up and coming kiosk applications that you never realized you’ll likely need:

  • 365 Retail Markets – A great breakroom alternative allowing large businesses to offer fresh food to their on-site employees while not having to employee a fulltime employee to run credit card or cash transactions.
  • Dropwater – Provides flavored and/or caffeinated bottled water options for offices, schools, or other public places and does so in a 100% biodegradable container.
  • Byte Foods  – Provides a refrigerated vending machine with RFID tags that know what food you’ve taken and charges you accordingly.
  • DispenseTech360 – Dispense any liquid (coffee, tea, etc.) completely self-serve and charge by how many ounces are dispensed.
  • Stockwell – An app-based display case that can contain anything from food items to iPods and allows you to gain access from their app and monitors what you remove in order to bill you once you close the glass door.

IoT is an exciting playground that we should all be happy to be a part of. Machines are constantly being built that do things faster, more accurately, and at a fraction of the cost than ever before.

Everyday someone is coming up with a new IoT Kiosk to enrich our lives and from my perspective, the future is very bright.

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