Kiosks Bring In-Store

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Rather than hope customers will use and/or buy from their Web sites when they can't get to the bookstore, some booksellers have decided to bring their Web sites to customers by creating Web kiosks in their stores. Booksellers who spoke to BTW about their kiosks have found the axiom made famous in W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe on target: Build it, and they will come.

Kiosk at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina

Tom Campbell of The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina, told BTW that the store has had a Web kiosk for about a year and a half.

"I noticed [stores] like Borders moving in the direction of kiosks," he explained, "enabling people to look books up." Additionally, the bookstore is just a few blocks from Duke University, so "lots of young people would ask about a book and ask, 'Why don't you have a computer where I can look it up?' People are used to that." Campbell said that, at the time that he was deciding to create an in-store Web kiosk, he already had a Windows network and a high speed connection. "I had an old computer sitting at home, and I bought a little computer hutch and had a carpenter put a base on it to increase the height."

The kiosk was integrated into the store's computer network and made secure. At the kiosk, the store provides a special order pen and a pad for customers to use if they don't wish to order directly through the Web site. Campbell also noted that because he uploads the store inventory onto the store's Web site, customers using the kiosks have a good idea of what is in stock.

To deter users from surfing or checking their e-mail, signs are placed around the kiosk, such as, "Look up Here," and "For use on our Web site Only." There have been few problems with surfers. "[The kiosk] is in a very visible part of the store," Campbell noted.

Regulator's kiosk has been a hit. "This is the best advertising for the Web site that we can do," said Campbell, who also noted that the store has received a fair amount of special orders since the kiosk went up, and, overall, orders have increased through the site. "Seventy-five to 100 customers access the site each day, which is significant," he reported. "It's probably right up there with phone calls. So people are obviously finding it useful and helpful -- it's spreading the word."

At Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, California, Maryelizabeth Hart told BTW that the store launched its Web kiosk in December in time for the holidays as a marketing and customer service tool. "People will see it and ask, 'What's that?' We advertise in our print newsletter as well," she said, adding that it reminds people they can order from the store 24/7. "It's also for self-service" as many customers access the store's site in order to find a book, though Mysterious Galaxy does not upload its inventory to its site.

Mysterious Galaxy's kiosk set-up is simple: a computer equipped with Internet access set to the store's site placed on a small computer desk. Thus far, Hart said, it's been a success. "It's making people realize that there is an online alternative to the big one," she explained. "We've seen online traffic increase since we set up the kiosk. It's a nice marketing tool."

Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, has had a TitleSmart Web kiosk for two years that allows customers to look up books through TitleSmart and "on that kiosk is a key that one can push to go to [Village Books'] site," said store co-owner Chuck Robinson.

Robinson noted that the store's inventory is not uploaded onto their Web site due to the large number of used books the store sells. However, he acknowledged that he foresees a day when they will provide customers with access to the store inventory. Either way, he believes it is important for Village Books to offer customers an access center. "I like the idea of having a kiosk on the floor," Robinson said. --David Grogan