Since the advent of online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores have seen a lot less of me and my wallet. The brick-and-mortar stores that I do patronize are those with good online shopping systems. One chain I frequent a lot offers free shipping to online shoppers when you pick up orders at their stores. This is a smart tactic. It gets people like me who make online purchases inside store walls. Once there, I usually buy something else.
When I examine the reasons I shop online, self service and selection rank high. Recognizing this is true for many people, Intel has developed some kiosk prototypes that would help retailers bring the online experience into the store. To learn more about these kiosks and their inner workings, I talked to Nigel Forrester, Marketing Manager for the embedded computing business of Emerson Network Power — a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded and Communications Alliance (Intel® ECA) and one of the companies currently working on embedded industrial motherboards for OEMs targeting the retail space.
These retail kiosks are intelligent connected devices (one of the 15 billion we should see on the Embedded Internet by 2015). Looking at what Emerson Network Power has in mind, they should be very smart indeed. Forrester says that their product line for retail POS and kiosks includes a microATX motherboard called the Emerson Network Power MATXM-C2-410-B that can come equipped with an embedded Intel® Core™2 Duo processor and a chipset supporting rich graphics. It includes a Gigabit Ethernet interface for fast connectivity.
This combination would be able to provide a powerful online experience in-store including the capability to access a customer loyalty card database to offer individualized service and promotions. Imagine, for instance, the MATXM-C2-410-B running a kiosk enabling customers to scan items they find in-store to receive additional information about the products, stock availability, alternatives, discounts, customer reviews, even recommendations for companion items. Such a kiosk could even be designed to enable customers to purchase the item right at the kiosk (self-service check-out), receive a printed receipt or e-receipt sent to their cell phone or email, and be on their way. Kiosks would also be ideal for stores with vast inventories and limited display space. Customers could select and purchase an item, then take the receipt to a pickup window.
There's so much an intelligent kiosk could do. For instance, using the power of the Intel Core 2 Duo processor, it could take a picture of a shopper and overlay the shopper's body with the shirt to show an actual image of what the shopper will look like in the shirt rather than a characterized view. This would enable a person to try on many outfits in a few seconds. As an option, a shopper could then ask the kiosk for suggestions for corresponding shirt and pants combinations. Customers would even be able to try colors or patterns not in stock at that particular store and then order the one they liked best. In this scenario, the kiosk plays to an important brick-and-mortar strength: the ability to try before you buy.
One important thing to remember, according to Forrester, is that retailers are practical people. They're interested in new technology, but it also has to be easy and inexpensive to manage. Running stores is enough of a headache without technology adding to it. The MATXM-C2-410-B is full of answers here too. It has a unique midplane which allows the routing of power and LCD display cabling through the midplane to reduce the likelihood of cabling errors during maintenance. It also has both 12V and 24V PoweredUSB connections. These enable powering devices like bar code scanners and POS printers without the expense of additional power supplies. That can reduce costs and improve reliability. Finally, the motherboard supports dual independent displays and has VGA/LVDS and HDMI interfaces for connection to the widest possible range of displays. So it's versatile.
One important advantage the MATXM-C2-410-B packs from the IT point of view is that it's available with Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT), a management and security solution that Intel builds into the silicon. Forrester predicts this will be a strong selling feature for retailers because of its remote management capabilities. Right now, many retailers run systems 24 hours a day because they believe these machines cannot be booted reliably by store personnel. Intel AMT removes the on/off responsibilities from the retail floor and enables a retailer's IT department to power the systems on and off remotely for significant energy savings. According to Forrester, a typical retail store open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. could reduce energy consumption of the devices by over 40 percent even allowing an hour of runtime before and after hours. Intel AMT can also save the time and money it takes to send IT personnel to a store to fix or upgrade a machine by allowing IT to monitor, control and upgrade a system remotely.
Speaking of upgradability, remember that midplane design I mentioned? Its other advantage is that it allows you to replace the motherboard without disconnecting each individual device. Retailers will like how easy it makes it to take advantage of new technology. Just pop in the new motherboard, load the software, and the kiosk gets a second life.
What's your opinion on intelligent kiosks? Are they what's needed to bring brick-and-mortar stores into the connected world of the Embedded Internet? Will they increase foot traffic and sales?
 Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT) requires the computer system to have an Intel® AMT-enabled chipset, network hardware and software, as well as connection with a power source and a corporate network connection. Setup requires configuration by the purchaser and may require scripting with the management console or further integration into existing security frameworks to enable certain functionality. It may also require modifications of implementation of new business processes. With regard to notebooks, Intel AMT may not be available or certain capabilities may be limited over a host OS-based VPN or when connecting wirelessly, on battery power, sleeping, hibernating or powered off. For more information, see www.intel.com/technology/platform-technology/intel-amt/.