Self service kiosk evolution

Written by

Kat Elliott

While self service kiosks as we know them are a relatively new technology to the business world, the very concept of self service goes much further back. According to an industry survey, self service is “an interactive, self-serve device provided by a venue, not the user, that helps the user do something that is informational and/or transactional that streamlines, automates or eliminates wait or cost,” and therefore may include the likes of vending machines and ATMs.

Understanding the history of self service and seeing all the changes and developments that have been made will provide more insight into what drives so many businesses to adopt this new technology, and the role that a self-service kiosk can play in today’s consumer-centric world.

A brief history of self service

The first modern coin-operated vending machine was developed in the early 1880s and dispensed postcards when someone deposited a coin. This new technology became widely popular, and soon businesses were using it to sell items such as chocolates, cigarettes, and chewing gum. Part of why it was so popular was because of the speed and convenience it offered: speed with which the transaction took place and convenient because the vending machines could be found in almost any public place.

Automated teller machines (ATMs) were developed in the late 1960s and automated an otherwise long and tedious process of withdrawing cash or making a deposit. ATMs can be found everywhere these days, and offer a fast, convenient experience for people to retrieve cash.

The first self-service kiosk was developed in 1977 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The kiosk was interactive, and students, teachers, and visitors could use it to retrieve information about university events, schedules, maps, and directories.

Self-service kiosks were first used in a retail setting in 1985, by the Florsheim Shoe Co. The kiosk allowed customers to view and purchase shoes that were not available at the business location. Despite this revolutionary technology that afforded customers convenience, speed, and the ability to purchase shoes they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, self-service kiosks were not widely adopted by other businesses and retailers until the 1990s.

Using self service kiosks

Online retailers and self service

The sudden popularity of self service kiosks for retail purposes can be owed, in part, to the establishment of online retailers such as Amazon and Ebay. E-commerce allowed customers to make purchases at their own time, at their own pace, and allowed customers to have control over every interaction with the business.

Online retail encouraged the adoption and implementation of self-service technologies at business locations in order to give businesses a competitive edge. Providing the same speed and convenience that a customer could find online, only in-store, resulted in an increase in customer satisfaction and encouraged them to keep shopping at the businesses they had been before.


Modern self service kiosks

Today, self service kiosks can be found at many large retail businesses, fast food restaurants, airports, grocery stores, and more. They are technological feats because they use advanced technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide users with an optimal experience.

Rather than just being an alternative to checking out with an employee, the technology behind self service kiosks actively attempts to bring in more customers by personalizing the experience. Customer experience is a big contributing factor to a business’s customer acquisition and retention rates, and ultimately, the success of the business.


Key takeaways

Consumer demand is the driving force behind most of the self service industry’s technological developments. Speed and convenience are especially important to customers, and can easily be addressed by offering self-service to customers. Understanding your customers’ other demands will help you to better understand what your business needs to address in order to succeed.

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