Think there’s no life left in photo kiosks? Have they reached the end of their development life? Certainly not, if recent observations are taken into account.
Last June, Precision Camera held a grand opening for its new Austin, Texas, superstore. During the festivities, two members of the kiosk vendor Storefront.com were on-hand to witness how customers used their kiosks, and they came away with a greater understanding of modern photo kiosk usage.
One of the takeaways?
“The idea that customers come to a retail photo kiosk only to do simple things just needs to go away,” said Larry Adams, senior vice president, Storefront.com. “Customers today are exposed to automated kiosks in so many places in their lives, like ATMs, airline ticket counters, parking plazas, etc. They are not intimidated by placing orders on kiosks.
“The idea that a photo kiosk has to be toned down needs to go away. That may have been the right place to be in 2002–03,” he added, “but 10 years later, kiosks are just part of everyone’s life.”
In fact, there was one customer who was at work at the kiosk for six hours.
“This particular lady had just gotten back from an African photo safari and had four full memory cards she was going through, image by image,” said Joe Hill, program director. “She had an abundance of images, and a lot of them were very similar. She would take three or four pictures of the same subject, trying to get the perfect shot.”
Hill conceded this is probably not the customary behavior retailers are looking for, but there aren’t too many customers who will come in with 10,000 images either.
“Of course, the final order was a lot smaller than the volume of images that she had, but the quality of images was very high,” he explained. “For her, that was six hours well invested. I can only imagine the amount of money she invested to get to Africa. She printed mostly 5x7s.
“The real question is, is she inclined to come back? And the answer is yes. I highly doubt she spends six hours there every time she comes to Precision Camera, but the fact the software is as simple and as quick as you need it to be or as sophisticated as you need it to be, that is what is valuable there,” added Hill.
In general, Larry Adams sees a trend in larger order sizes in photo kiosks, fueled by enormous media cards. “The order size of photo kiosks is growing rapidly around the world,” said Adams. “We’re seeing orders of more than 5,000 prints in Europe going to fulfillment. Order sizes have skyrocketed because media cards are so much bigger now. I saw people bringing in DVDs—which I thought were gone—but there were several clients who brought them in. I was of the opinion you wouldn’t need optical media readers in the next generation of photo kiosks. That seems to be proven wrong [at least from an input standpoint].”
The Storefront.com team also made some UI and workflow observations.
“Even though there is no standard set of global icons, many icons have become so common in everyday use, icons on photo kiosks should match what people are accustomed to,” said Adams. “An example would be the Wi-Fi icon or the pause/play/rewind buttons. Those all have specific meanings in people’s smartphones, tablets and other devices. Trying to use those symbols on a photo kiosk to do something else seems to be confusing.
“We had some custom icons, for example,” he added, “that we thought carried the message better than they probably did. In one place, we use an icon to expand a selection, and that looked very much like a ‘play’ button on a media device.”
“One of the things I noticed was everybody has their own intuitive way to get to the finish line, and it isn’t always the way we [developers] envision,” said Joe Hill. “We need to allow the user to get to the end of the order in as many ways as possible. Of course, when you’re in the software industry, there’s always the way you see to get to the finish line, and that is generally a point-a to point-b experience. That’s not necessarily true for people who use software. That is something we’re going to look at.”
Adams added the expanded capacity of USB sticks and media cards presents a daunting challenge to kiosk designers. “I don’t think this challenge is going to go away,” he said. “Even with super-fast hardware, people are waiting 20 minutes for their images to be transferred to complete the order. [Storefront tries] to be smart about generating the thumbs to get you started on the order quickly, but there comes a point where, if you’ve ordered 1,000 prints, you’ve got to get 1,000 12MP images off the media stick into the kiosk.”
The Precision Camera visit has caused them to realize developing a photo kiosk workflow is not a linear process. “Consumers have a different thought pattern than a developer does,” explained Adams. “There should be more options at every place in the process to get you where you want to go. Kiosk software is somewhat linear: Choose an image, choose some sizes or products, and then choose some quantities. But, at that point, a consumer may want to choose another size. Or, if they’re at the preview screen, the consumer may decide to edit the image, instead of doing it earlier in the process.”
Another trend spotted by the Storefront.com execs was the use of creative applications, like borders and text, used primarily on square prints. Consumers are printing some images from Facebook, noted Adams, but the trend is really taking off in Europe, where consumers are making gifts from friends’ albums.
Adams said photo specialty dealers are well positioned to take advantage of kiosk-based social media services, since many chain retailers will not allow a kiosk to access the Internet through their corporate Internet firewalls. As a result, photo printing from these sources is thwarted.
“The independent retailer has the upper hand when it comes to output from the kiosk, because they can offer comfortable work areas with nice chairs,” added Adams. “They can design the store with the intention of making it a destination for making photo products and gifts. Having a kiosk concierge is the right thing to do, and it turns into sales dollars. You can’t go wrong with that approach.”