Small Footprint Screens Take Big Strides
Touch screens are becoming increasingly smaller and significantly cheaper. Consequently, point of sale VARs can give end users more opportunities to greet their customers at every turn.
In a recent TV commercial for a credit card company, a pet store customer tries to pay by check for a pair of rabbits. As the skeptical shop owner rejects the various ID cards the customer presents, the passage of time is indicated by an apparent breeding frenzy, as two rabbits become four, then twelve, and so on. By the end of the spot, the small shop has become inundated with rabbits, including one furry creature perched on top of the customer's head.
If the commercial were to continue for another minute, the passage of time might best be indicated by the proliferation not of rabbits but of touch screen devices throughout the store. With decreases in price and size, touch screen technology is ready to be fruitful and multiply.
Thin Is In
According to Thomas Cramer, president of TEKVisions, Inc. (Phoenix), prices for touch screen hardware have dropped dramatically in the aftermath of the Y2K upgrade frenzy. Because so many businesses decided to replace their outdated point of sale (POS) equipment in preparation for Y2K, there has been a hardware sales slowdown in the last two years. During that time, supply has greatly outstripped demand, driving prices down. "Prices for 15 to 20 inch flat panels with built-in PCs, often referred to as 'panel PCs,' have dropped 50% in the last 6 to 12 months," Cramer said. "Since most businesses replace hardware every three to five years, we're expecting business to ramp up again soon."
Accompanying lower prices are smaller sizes. The result is that not only can businesses afford to buy more touch screen devices, they can find the space to install them. "Counter space is always at a premium," Cramer said. "Now some devices are small enough to be mounted on the edge of a counter." Cramer notes that even greater space savings will be achieved when prices drop on the bright, low-power, paper-thin OLED (organic light emitting diode) units.
Dan Conti, president of Continuum Technology Corp. (Fletcher, NC), agrees that store environments should soon become thick with touch screen devices. "We're going to see a trend toward customers using numerous devices of varying degrees of functionality and performance - everything from price verifiers to kiosks," Conti said. "Screen sizes will match functionality. In a store area that requires a high degree of interactivity, perhaps even multimedia capabilities, a column-mount kiosk housing a 12 or 15 inch panel is useful. But in an area where only price verification is important, a smaller, perhaps ¼ VGA (video graphics array) display can serve."
Applications That Make Touch Screens Pay
Despite the attraction of lower prices and smaller sizes, POS VARs and integrators must remember that a touch screen or kiosk application must make economic sense. "Not all kiosk applications have met expectations, particularly those that try to make money solely through advertising," Cramer said. "A kiosk still has to pay for itself. VARs should base their sales strategy on what the unit can do for the customer in terms of generating revenue, saving labor costs, or saving time. For instance, any unit that takes money or a credit card generates revenue."
Conti points to customer loyalty programs as moneymaking applications enhanced by touch screens and kiosks. Price verifiers, for example, have traditionally been used in places where price marking was difficult - for example, lawn and garden areas. Conti encourages VARs to sell price verifiers for customer service functions. "Retailers can provide price verifiers so that customers can scan an item to determine its loyalty discount price," Conti said.
VARs can supplement their margins on touch screen hardware with sales of networking and integration services. "There will be increased need for managing the devices," Conti said. "VARs can offer service for monitoring the condition and utilization of devices. They can also sell knowledge management applications for analyzing the customer data collected across the environment."
Cramer encourages VARs to expand not only the services they offer but also the markets they target. He notes that hospitals, for example, have begun to use touch screens in patient rooms and on carts for entering patient information. "There are a lot of niche markets that POS VARs don't go into. VARs could be in trouble if they don't diversify their markets," Cramer said. "Throw enough spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks."Questions about this article? E-mail the author at TomV@corrypub.com.