Staples installing Internet kiosks in all retail outlets

In a bid to boost sales and services through its Web site, office-products retailer Staples Inc. Monday announced that it has equipped each of its 954 U.S. stores with interactive Internet kiosks that customers can use to order items from the company's online catalog.

Framingham, Mass.-based Staples, which previously tested the kiosks at 20 stores, said it's installing up to four of the systems at each retail location. The kiosks will pave the way for the company to expand the number of items that can be ordered in its stores from 7,500 to 45,000, plus more than 100,000 software packages and "dozens" of business services.

In addition, Staples said shoppers who use one of the Internet kiosks to order from its Web site will be able to pay their bills at a cash register before leaving the store. According to a Staples spokeswoman, kiosk users can print out bar-coded receipts to use in making payments at the store. Once a payment is processed, she said, the shipping order for the products being purchased will go through.

Ed Harsant, president of Staples North America, said in a statement that the addition of the kiosks should help the company "operate our stores more efficiently." Staples executives also expect the move to speed up the retailer's ability to fill orders for out-of-stock items and to simplify the process of receiving and shipping special orders.

The idea of in-store Internet kiosks isn't new, analysts said. For example, Barnes & Noble Inc., Best Buy Co. and Kmart Corp. have all installed kiosks in their brick-and-mortar stores in an an attempt to make it possible for shoppers to buy items that can't be crammed on to the shelves.

But in-store kiosks aren't always an easy sell, said Barrett Ladd, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Waltham, Mass. The success of interactive systems that let shoppers browse through Web-based product catalogs depends heavily on the makeup of a retailer's customer base and whether the technology goes beyond what can be bought in a store, she said.

When Rocky Hill, Conn.-based Ames Department Stores Inc. tested kiosks tied to its Web site in its brick-and-mortar stores, Ladd said, the company's executives discovered that most of their customers just weren't interested in shopping online.

A study on the success of Internet kiosks, done by Summit Research Associates Inc. in Rockville, Md., and updated earlier this month, found that three out of 10 projects failed because the machines weren't sufficiently maintained or didn't function properly from the start.

But Francie Mendelsohn, the research firm's president, said she doesn't think Staples is likely to join the list of the failures. The company is "a very smart . . . retailer," she added.

Ladd said key to making Internet kiosks work in a setting such as a Staples store is enabling potential corporate shoppers to buy insurance and other business services online. "Small businesses are clearly more profitable consumers than you or me going in there and buying something off the shelf," she said.

This story, "Staples installing Internet kiosks in all retail outlets" was originally published by Computerworld.

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