In first-century Egypt, Heron of Alexandria developed the first vending machine - a coin-operated 'Holy Water Dispenser'. You dropped in your coin and out came… holy water.
Heron’s invention was the prototype of what has now become the self-service kiosk.
Since then, the basic functionality of vending machines have evolved into complex self-service kiosks.
By the 1880s, coin-operated vending machines in UK railway stations and post offices were dispensing envelopes, postcards, and notepaper. In 2004, USPS installed the first of 2,506 APC (Automated Postal Center) kiosks in the lobbies of post offices across the US.
In the Isle of Man, customers requested reduced line times, quicker transactions and self-service weighing positions. In response, the new kiosks at the Douglas post office introduced pay-and-post self-serve postal kiosks, enabling customers to weigh, stamp and pay for packages, electricity, gas, phone bills and government rates.
Now, with the arrival of the internet – and the so-called Fourth Industrial revolution – kiosks are changing again to include multi-channel integration, migrate tasks away from counters, and help customers join the eCommerce experience.
Addressing eCommerce Opportunities
Self-service kiosks are helping posts capitalize on the growing numbers of parcels generated by eCommerce. Retailers are increasingly selling more online, both domestically and internationally. Likewise, consumers want to send packages quickly without having to wait in line at the counter.
Kiosks enable Posts to:
- Exploit eCommerce and parcel delivery opportunities
- Promote, upsell and cross-sell products and services
- Generate revenues by offering financial and government services
- Develop new channels to attract customers and form cross-border alliances
- Centrally manage loyalty programs; manage customer and business accounts
- Improve customer service by providing helpful Frequently Asked Questions
- Offer self-checkout capabilities
Self-Service Kiosks Technologies
As mentioned, kiosks have evolved from simple vending machines to more sophisticated self-service stations that provide customers with a convenient alternative to the counter.
Typically located in postal lobbies, self-service kiosks offer customers the ability to:
- Choose shipping options
- Weigh letters, flats, and parcels
- Purchase variable rate postage, stamps, certified, and return receipts
- Print priority mail express forms, receipts with tracking numbers
- Perform zip code lookup
- Pay with debit and credit cards
Improving Customer Experience
Faced with stiff competition from rivals, Posts are putting the customer experience at the center of their growth strategy.
Kiosks, mobile POS, and customer apps, are helping Posts develop a stronger connection to their customers.
Previously, getting to the post on time was an impediment to customers working 9-5. As part of their customer-first strategy, posts are now making kiosks available outside of hours, and at non-postal locations, such as shopping malls.
In parallel with kiosk deployments, lobby assistants equipped with mobile point-of-service (mPOS) devices are helping to reduce wait times and improve the customer experience.
Retailers also benefit as they can integrate their product line – and offer an ‘endless aisle’ experience – into kiosks.
Increasing Customers Choice
For customers, the appeal of kiosks relates to choice, control, and convenience.
Kiosks empower customers to choose the products they want, have more control of the shipping experience, and avail of service on their own terms: for example, after hours on their way home from work.
During busy periods, prospective customers may not have time to line up and ask questions at the counter, resulting in lost opportunities. In terms of untapped commercial opportunities, the self-service aspect of kiosks empowers customers to discover the full range of available postal services. This interactivity leads to greater customer engagement, more repeat visits to the branch, ensuring a swift ROI.
The success of kiosks is also partly due to the ease with which customers use tablets, smartphones and touchscreen technology these days. In the 1970s and 80s, many customers initially struggled when interactive retail kiosks were first introduced. That learning curve is now over.
Today, they’re comfortable using self-service technologies to shop, search, and check for account information. At the post office, SSKs let you perform a wide range of services, including searching for information, weighing parcels, and paying for items.
Consumers appreciate the convenience of using kiosks to perform transactions, rather than having to wait in line or rush to the post office before it closes.
At Escher, we design kiosks with usability principles in mind, making the user interface easy to understand and simple to navigate. Refining the user experience leads to greater conversions, increased adoption rates, and lower abandonment rates.
Refreshing the Branch Network
Right now, the postal industry is undergoing massive change.
Faced with challenges from the internet, electronic substitution, and changing customer lifestyles, Posts are looking at creative ways to reimagine their business models.
Central to this response are self-service kiosks. These refresh the customer experience and help reinvigorate the branch network. For customers, kiosks provide direct access to services typically provided at counters.
As part of digital transformation, we’re seeing Posts adopt kiosks to maximize efficiency at the counter, shorten lines - especially during busy periods - and open up new revenue streams.
As part of the Post’s growth strategy, self-service kiosks:
- Give customers quick, easy and convenient access to postal services.
- Optimize the branch network to meet the needs of customers and communities
- Develop new retail services that increase postal service revenue
- Provide greater revenue generation from wider product range and availability
- Offer faster transaction times that increase transaction volumes
- Cope with seasonal spikes by relieving the pressure on counters
- Integrate with third-party retailers and other postal systems
For retail branch managers, kiosks enable them to:
- Migrate manual counter processes, thereby reducing errors and rework.
- Free up postal staff enabling them to provide assistance elsewhere, for example, on the floor with mobile POS (mPOS) devices. When deploying the solution, postal staff typically require minimal training to come up to speed.
- Focus staff on complex, higher-margin business
Measuring Kiosks Effectiveness
In the US, self-service kiosks (SSKs) are accessible in about 2,300 post offices, mostly 24*7. Customers can process 80% of transactions normally handled by retail window clerks.
USPS evaluates an SSK’s effectiveness by measuring the customer adoption percentage, that is, the percentage of transactions performed at an SSK instead of by a retail clerk.
By measuring the effectiveness of kiosks at local, regional, and national level, Posts can identify top-performing products, while considering other factors, such as seasonal trends, market opportunities, and regional preferences.
Using Kiosk Data Strategically
With the rise of the internet, where everything needs to be connected, data provides a competitive advantage.
One of the advantages of kiosk technology is that data is immediately available.
Posts are now using data to track inventory, improve loyalty, and analyze customer behavior.
Armed with accurate data, Posts can leverage untapped assets, connect to third-party systems – for example, retailers, service providers, and government agencies – to provide customers with a more refined and tailored experience as they move from one Point of Service to another.
The postal industry is changing, and will continue to change.
Posts are increasingly investing in their operations and retail network by digitizing their core business and adapting to customer preferences.
As a total solutions provider to the postal industry, we’re helping Posts achieve digital transformation by harnessing kiosks to reduce wait times, and give customers more control of their shopping experience.