Love's, Sodexo share digital signage, kiosk lessons

| by Elliot Maras
Love's, Sodexo share digital signage, kiosk lessons

At left, Jeff Pinc of Panasonic welcomes Jarred Smith of Love's and Paul Epperly of Sodexo.

Given the customer benefits that kiosks and digital signage can deliver for retailers, the challenges that oftentimes accompany these deployments are an acceptable cost.

That was the verdict of a pair of retail decision-makers who shared their experiences introducing kiosks and digital signage solutions during the ICX Summit in Dallas two weeks ago.

Jeff Pinc of Panasonic USA moderates an engaging session. Photo by Matt Tilbury.

Jarred Smith, manager of digital experience at Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, and Paul Epperly, former director of technology portfolios at Sodexo, offered a wealth of pointers to retailers interested in leveraging digital media technology. Jeff Pinc, director of sales at Panasonic USA, served as moderator.

Love's 2015 digital marketing initiative introducing 470 touchscreen kiosks and 2,330 digital screens gave the company more control of its customer messaging, Smith said.

A major advantage with this rollout was the company's ability to create all digital content in-house for kiosks, digital signage, social media and web.

For Sodexo, a global foodservice operator for 2,500 clients in North America and Europe, managing the content for about 5,000 kiosks proved more challenging, since the content needs varied among its customers, Epperly said. Unlike Love's, Sodexo largely relied on its food and beverage vendors for digital content. 

Love's digital journey was also made easier by its partnership with ComQi Inc., a content management software and solutions provider, but the initial rollout did have its growing pains, Smith said.

Customer education needed

The touchscreens Love's installed in its truck stops did not initially get much use from customers since who weren't familiar with them. Most of the truck stops' customers are middle aged truck drivers.

Jarred Smith of Love's stresses the need for customer education. Photo by Matt Tilbury.

"The idea of a touchscreen was novel to them," Smith said.

To engage customers, Love's changed the content based on Google Analytics data, and added a scrolling feature that allowed customers to view information about weather and traffic.

This way, even if they didn't interact with the touchscreen, they received some value. In time, they began to engage.

A sweepstakes giveaway requiring the customer to use the kiosk also generated engagement, Smith said.

"The user interaction brought more users to it," he said.

Impact on kitchen operations

When Sodexo introduced self-order kiosks to reduce wait times for orders at its customers' cafeterias, the kitchens initially were not able to handle the volume of orders, Epperley said.

"When dealing with orders on kiosks, you have to be keenly aware of what your kitchen can handle," he said.

One of Sodexo's biggest challenges was finding a reliable payment mechanism for the kiosks. The first two vendors' products did not work consistently.

"Payments have been a pain in the butt," he said.

Micro markets bring challenges

Sodexo also introduced kiosks to meet client requests for 24/7 access to food. The company installed micro markets — unattended markets offering customers open product shelving and automated cashless payment — on college campuses and at business and industry locations.

Paul Epperly of Sodexo notes that customer adoption can be slow. Photo by Matt Tilbury.

One issue they encountered with micro markets was customer theft, necessitating the addition of surveillance cameras. Theft was more of a problem in the B&I accounts than the college accounts, Epperly said.

While micro markets offer great customer convenience, they incur the cost of attaching RFID tags to products, Epperly said. Customers pay for their purchases by scanning the RFID tags at a reader on the kiosk.

While some kiosks can alternate between serving as POS stations and self-serve terminals in cafeterias, Epperly said this can confuse customers. Customers will not necessarily know that at certain times of day they should not expect a clerk to attend to the machine.

Customer reaction not black and white

While the kiosks generally improved the customer experience, they did present some challenges in customer relations, Epperly said. In some instances, customers did not appreciate the kiosks, since they saw them as eliminating jobs.

"Sometimes you can really turn off your customers," Epperly said. "I think there is a fine line to walk. Sometimes it's a slow adoption. There are lots of things that can trip you up when you are deploying."

He said that Sodexo also learned the importance of not placing too much information on the kiosk touchscreen, because it can confuse the customer.

Location variances were less of an issue for Love's than for Sodexo, but Smith said his company, like Epperly's, encountered challenges in determining where to place a kiosk without interrupting customer traffic flow.

The speakers agreed that deciding which kiosk vendor to work with can be challenging. In Sodexo's case, the list was narrowed by the need to be able to integrate with the company's existing kitchen display system.

Both speakers also cited the challenge of meeting ADA requirements. In Love's case, one reason for adding the scrolling feature to the touchscreens was to meet ADA rules. 

Kiosks improve customer experience

Epperly acknowledged that touchscreens are excellent POS tools for displaying nutrition information. He also gave the kiosks good marks for providing helpful customer data.

Kiosks delivered a 24–26 percent increase in average check size at the Hollywood Bowl, Epperly said, a boost he credited largely to upselling and improved order accuracy. "We do get that uptick," he said. 

Reducing the need to handle cash also contributed to savings.

For Love's, the biggest benefit from the digital initiative was the ease of signing customers up for the loyalty program. Instead of having to tell people to call customer service and have a customer service rep gather information, the cashier can simply direct the customer to a kiosk where they can enter their information themselves. This has eliminated thousands of man hours for the company.

Smith and Epperly concluded that, despite the challenges, kiosks and digital signage are worthwhile endeavors.

Topics: Content, Content Management, Customer Experience, Installation / Integration, Interactive / Touchscreen, Retail

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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