Kiosks take retail into new realm of customer service, convenience


WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — A common feature in movies from the mid-20th century is the automat, a place where customers could plunk in a few coins and retrieve such pre-made food items as sandwiches and desserts.

(THE NEWS: Kroger expands reach to Ohio Northern campus with kiosk test. For the full story, click here.)

Automats mostly have disappeared in the United States, but the idea behind them appears to be on the rise again in the form of retailing kiosks, such as the one Kroger is piloting on the campus of Ohio Northern University.

Kroger isn't the only retailer looking to use kiosks. Max-Wellness plans to put its Wellness-in-a-Box kiosks in airports, urgent care centers, hotels, fitness centers and other locations to sell customers health-and-wellness products. Meanwhile, Rite Aid announced in December that it would roll out 3-D holographic display kiosks showing images that appear to float in space.

But one area where pharmacy retailers, in particular, potentially could get a lot of use out of kiosks is at the pharmacy itself. In January, California-based Medbox announced the introduction of two new prescription drug vending machines, the Safe Storage Locker and the Medbox Rx, both of which allow pharmacists to load a customer's medication into a lockbox for later retrieval, with customers able to obtain the medications with the swipe of a card and the scanning of a fingerprint.

Just as automats didn't replace servers at the restaurant, kiosks won't replace store staff or pharmacists, but they can add a new layer of convenience for customers and retailers alike, especially pharmacists who want to get back home at a reasonable hour and customers who can't make it to the drug store until late in the evening.

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