Digital signage kiosk - what makes this device so special?


Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Digital signage is an indispensable element of the modern fast food restaurant business. Digital totems, screens and interactive kiosks are omnipresent in nearly all shopping malls and are seen in all sorts of businesses, be that healthcare, retail, HoReCa and entertainment of all sorts. But what makes a digital signage kiosk such an interesting tool?

Apparently the main benefit of digital signage tools is efficiency. According to various estimates, digital signage attracts up to 72% more attention than online ads. Customers not only get information about the product or offer, but also remember the brand and become more familiar with it. Over 66% of retailers claim that better branding is the main benefit of using digital signage tools, followed by improved customer service, approval of which has risen by 40%.

As the “Digital Signage Today 2019” report points out, 18% of companies using digital signage solutions hail from the restaurants and food serving business. In fact, the popularity in this segment is even higher than in banking (16%) and retail (8%) making the HoReCa segment the heaviest user of digital signage solutions.

Indeed, large displays and shiny menus are popular in restaurants and cafes worldwide. On the other hand - the digital signage solution is far more expensive than a typical screen, be that a computer screen or a TV. So what makes digital signage so special in the age of smart devices, when nearly every screen comes with Android or a similar solution that makes it ready to be plugged into a digital ecosystem?

Digital signage kiosk

In the HoReCa business, a digital kiosk plays a special role. The device supports various business goals. A digital signage kiosk can gather the orders, process payments and provide customers with information about the products on offer. With this in mind, the ordering kiosk provides substantial support for the hospitality sector, be that a cafe, a fast food restaurant or a railway station bistro. Further information can be found in our “what is a kiosk” blogpost.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
But to be honest - a touchscreen or a display is not something unheard of. Nearly every adult today carries a touchscreen device in their pocket - a smartphone. A screen that constantly displays offers is also nothing to be concerned about. Modern televisions are not only smart enough to be connected, they can also be cost-effective by utilizing eco-friendly technologies like organic light-emitting diodes (OLED).

Considering all of the above, it is possible to build an ordering system only with an iPad and a smart tv. When supported by a payment terminal with a fiscal printer, the device is also able to process payments.

Apparently, it is rare for a company to use a standard TV or a tablet as an ordering device in a restaurant. It is far more common to install a digital ordering kiosk inside the restaurant, a large, free-standing totem that can be used by clients, despite its size and costs.

This is the case for a number of reasons

Why choose a digital signage kiosk?

Digital signage solutions are built by companies implementing hardware and software from various vendors, Depending on the client, a digital signage solution can be both a humble one-stand in a small fast food restaurant and a monumental installation seen in a shopping mall. However every digital signage device shares a number of qualities that distinguish them from a home-grown solution based on commodity hardware.

Heavy-duty hardware

It is tempting to think that a customer will treat hardware in the same, gentle manner as its owner. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Customers usually don’t attempt to be gentle with the hardware they encounter. They touch the screen with significant force, tap it strongly with dirty fingers and even punch it when the device doesn’t respond quickly enough.

Also, a screen needs to be active for long hours at full power, with no time to reset or recharge. It is also common for a customer to spill a drink on it - it is a restaurant after all. Specialised hardware designed solely to be used as digital signage comes with special protection to prevent things from being spilled on it. However being water resistant (or cola - that’s usually the case for a fast food restaurant kiosk) is only one thing. The second is ease of cleaning. After a short period, spilled coke attracts flies and other insects that crave sugar. Thus, the digital signage hardware has removable panels and tubes designed to quickly remove liquids from the devices interior.

Taking this into account, any attempt to replace digital signage with commodity hardware is doomed to fail. It will last no longer than a week - having been punched, spilled upon or broken due to heavy usage.

Better customer experience

As a touchscreen device, the digital kiosk comes with all good user experience practices taken from the online world. The digital version of the menu enables the customer to browse it in a convenient way - with no pressure from the cashier. The customer can browse menu, look at the images and check the size or composition of each set. For a younger audience it is natural to interact with a touchscreen - according to the Pew Research Center up to 96% of people aged 18-29 own a smartphone. So what would be more natural to them than a touchscreen. With its modern, sleek design a digital signage kiosk can be much more familiar than a stranger behind the service desk.

On the other hand, an older audience can praise the kiosks large display and clear presentation. Thus, a digital kiosk can enhance customer service in multiple ways.

Specialized software

A digital signage kiosk is also a perfect fit for specialized kiosk software. Although possible, it is not trivial to connect the iOS or a consumer version of android with all the business software used by restaurants that use systems such as Oracle Micros for example.

Also, making the software is not easy - it is a powerful business in fact and shouldn’t be considered as a side-gig for a company. Every company has a core business and auxiliary support departments like accounting or IT. For a software-focused company delivering a software is a core business, while a fast food restaurant can neither focus on it nor does it possess the experience required.

Honestly - would you eat burgers delivered by a software house? That is the mirror image of software designed by a fast-food company.

The M4B digital kiosks use the WAVE platform that delivers a connected and comprehensive user environment to leverage. It is easy to deliver an enclosed ecosystem that delivers a consistent user experience in the restaurant. Having animation that shows a story on multiple screens, with a hero jumping from one to another? No problem at all. More importantly - specialized platforms are designed to manage content without requiring the user to be technically proficient in the same way that website content management systems are built.

Data gathering

A smart employee always benefits the business with a remarkable observations and wit. Yet human perception is limited and remembering everything about the customer is impossible. But not for the interactive kiosk.

The machine gathers all the data it can - the time needed for the order, the conversion rates of the promotions and the ordering statistics to name but a few. When paired with the loyalty platforms it can also deliver insight on a particular customer’s preferences and tailor the offers to their taste.

Design

Every age has its theme and mood, be that the gothic architecture of dark ages, postmodernism or brutalism. People like consistency in their experience, so delivering a device that looks out-of-context can cause irritation.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
Modern digital signage comes with a sleek and elegant design that fits the interior. Also, the device blends into the restaurant’s style, especially if it is a fast food restaurant. Additionally, the better design comes with further UX-optimized software. It is not only about providing service. The way to the customer’s heart comes through ease of access. Digging through the illegible menus of a home-grown solution is to the contrary.

Also, reaching for professional digital signage solutions enables a company to deliver content in new ways. Digital kiosks don’t to be placed as a standalone totem - they can be folded into the wall, a counter or into the table, to make the ordering process much smoother.

Finally, there are many talented people in companies designing digital signage devices. Our tech partner - M4B - employs people recognized with red dot design awards. How many skilful designers work for food companies?

Technical debt reduction

A technical debt is a recently coined term, as the software used by companies worldwide matured. Or to be more honest and direct - aged. Sometimes they became antiquated without becoming obsolete. That’s the case in many banks and, sometimes, in food chains that operate using aged infrastructure or software.

According to Deloitte’s estimations, there is around $3.61 technical debt per line of code hidden within every piece of corporate software. When the solution grows, the debt becomes overwhelming. It takes many forms, including ta declining number of employees with the required skills, aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced or constantly applying on-the-go tweaks to make the software operational in the modern world.

Outsourcing digital signage kiosks enables a “not my problem” attitude. The company behind the software and hardware needs to meet the licensing and service level agreement. And that’s all - no more worries other than than an invoice once a month. Technical debt? Maybe, but so what?

Easy to maintain homebrew solution requires as much servicing and maintenance as an outsourced one. The key difference is that the vendor has all the know-how and resources to provide these services. On the other hand - the core business of a fast food vendor is to provide food, so building a servicing backend for the company’s homebrew digital signage is difficult and rarely profitable.

Professional digital signage devices are assembled with multiple replaceable parts. The same goes with replacing the paper in a fiscal printer or a similar device - the digital kiosks are designed to make this as easy as possible. Homebrew solutions, with their rush to production, are rarely designed in such a way.

Summary

Multiple companies suffer from “not-invented-here” syndrome. The term basically refers to the form of a corporate tribalism and irrational distrust towards solutions provided by external parties. Assuming there is enough time and resources, it is possible to reinvent the wheel as long as one wishes to.

Sometimes it can be rational to some extent, especially if the needs of the company are so narrow and specific, that no solutions exist. However, that’s not the point. In that case - why go through a minefield when there is a safe and direct road available.