Ecommerce kiosks

I had toyed with this idea earlier when I wrote the “Ideas for Bigbasket” post. The idea then was to have these internet enabled kiosks where folks could order stuff from big basket and perhaps even collect stuff from these kiosks/counters. Fundamental premise at that time was this was still for the yuppie crowd, but for those who do not want to sit on a computer and order, and most definitely do not want to wait at home for an order to arrive.

More recently, on reading this article about Flipkart going fully the app way (and most likely closing the route), this idea popped back into my mind. Kiosks as I mention above are probably best served using an android interface, and what better news than an ecommerce provider going fully the app route. (Sure you could do this even if it was not fully the app-route, but this was what caught my attention!).

So, let me try and use my static brain a little here, this fine tuesday morning, to see if I can come with a feature set for a kiosk like this.

1. Kiosks – An ATM like machine with only the ecommerce app loaded on to the screen, where customers can order. There could be one or many depending on the traffic the place sees. This would have to be a secure room such as those found for ATMs. Solid power backup and reliable internet connection would have to be a must. The kiosk must have the capability to be open 24 hours. This gives access for someone to pickup their order even late at night.

2. Positioning of kiosk My thinking has changed since my Bigbasket post. I think this kiosk can be anywhere and everywhere. It just needs to be high traffic. In a place like Bangalore, it could be in the BDA complexes. It could be in the MTC bus depots (like the T.Nagar Depot) in Chennai. It could be in the minimarkets (like Brahmaputra market – Sec 29) in Noida. It could be the megamarkets (such as Sarojini nagar Market) in Delhi. Well, these are the places I have lived for significant periods of time, but you get my drift. This is no longer for the yuppie crowd.

3. Manned vs unmanned kiosks: There could be manned kiosks where registrations can be facilitated by a personnel. These manned kiosks could potentially also take cash payments. Unmanned kiosks would have no personnel and could only be used order and take delivery of items using debit/credit cards. Unmanned kiosks could be 24 hours but manner kiosks could be open for a limited time. No special training for personnel would be required, since a current delivery logistics person could very well be reused to man this job- since the job function is exactly the same – except he does not go door to door, but deliver at a single point.

4. Access and payments would have to be through a card facilitated through the ecommerce company and potentially a bank. These cards could be applied for either online or through a help person sitting in the kiosks. These cards could be either preloaded debit cards or credit cards. Bank faciliated cards would take off a liability from the ecommerce company and help greatly on processing payments. Top up on cards can potentially be made easier with top-up cards similar to the pre-paid phone cards that are very popular now.

5. Pickup The access card could be used to unlock a locker, where orders can be picked up. Perishables have a timeline before which one needs to pick the order up. SMS alerts could be set up for locker opening and closing and when the order is available in the locker for pickup. This locker concept has already been tried out in the US by Amazon and is technically feasible. I do not know how successful the experiment was, but cultural significance matter and we cannot rule out it not working here.

6. Ordering would be easy. The card would authenticate them. They browse and choose the product they want to order. If the pickup location is a manned kiosk, COD would be a possibility, else, it would have to be credit/debit card payments.  The existing UX for the app could very well be reused. The delivery location however could have a default location, which is the kiosk location itself. The customer can choose to order here and deliver elsewhere as well.

Advantages to the ecommerce company:

1. Logistics is simplified to a great extent. It can be potentially much faster, since there just needs to be one trip from the motherhub of a city to the kiosk location. Cost reduces because of this simplification as well.

2. Reach is significantly expanded. People who do not have a stable internet connection at home, or a smart phone with an internet connection can easily order stuff off the web now.

Disadvantages to the ecommerce company:

1. There is one more entity that needs to be managed now – the kiosks.

2. There is always a risk of vandalism and pilferage. This needs to be managed carefully.

Advantages to consumer:

1. Biggest advantage to the user would be in the delivery segment. He does not need to be at home to receive the package. He can go to the kiosk on his way home and pick it up on the go. The yuppie consumer would probably still be using this phone or web to order, but would probably use this delivery mechanism for ease of pickup.

2. For a not-so-yuppie consumer, this could mean, he could order something off the web without using up his bandwidth on his phone or broadband. He could also do this at a location which he frequents daily (such as a bus stop).

3. For the masses, the reach would be huge. Now a much larger section of society would have universal access to anything they want to buy. Until now, the restriction for a large section of our society is to buy whatever is available in the store that is closest to where they live. If it is not available there, then it is not available at all. This could change all that.

Disadvantages to consumer:

1. The only disadvantages that I could probably think off here is adding yet another card for access to this kiosk, and potentially a long line that is waiting for pickup. But these could be easily worked around by introducing swift and efficient workflows.



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