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Interactive screens will provide users with product information

Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor

In the next few months, the Carnegie Mellon bookstore will play host to 21st-century hardware in the form of interactive touchscreens that will help shoppers gain information about products, coupons, and sales. The trial run of these signs will not only help make products more accessible for bookstore shoppers, but will also test the feasibility and productivity of the technology in the context of an actual store. The specific details of the hardware have not been fully disclosed, though at the annual Intel Corporation Open House at Intel Labs Pittsburgh, located on campus, two large interactive panels were on display and were demonstrated.

Working on the notions of innovation and efficiency, the presentation of the interactive panels centered on customer liberation from the strictures of conventional retailer procedures. “What if you could discover the store on your own?” said Priya Narasimhan, the operational director at Intel Labs Pittsburgh. Being able to locate items in-store and have a route to them mapped on screen, look up information concerning a certain product, and have coupons sent to mobile telephones are all within the reach. Features such as a camera to read facial expressions and track what catches a customer’s eye are not far behind, either.

These potential capabilities impact not only the way in which consumers go about their shopping, but also offer retailers previously inaccessible data. “Kiosks are great, in the sense that they can collect information that you’re willing to provide while notifying customers about deals, specials, and the like,” said Ari Lightman, a professor in the Information Systems Management program at Carnegie Mellon.

First introduced in 1974, touchscreen technology is admittedly mature, far from anything radical. It has contemporaneously become the selling point for some of today’s most popular consumer good—mobile telephones, ultraportable laptop computers, and photo frames, to name a few.

The domain of retail, however, mandates a more creative approach to application of the technology. In 2006, Ralph Lauren covered much of a window at its Madison Avenue flagship location with a 67-inch touchscreen, which gave passersby the opportunity to browse and order apparel without walking through the front doors. Until the integration of digital convenience and instantaneity with the in-store experience, the retail sector had seen a very limited share of recent technology.

The slow uptake in these sorts of human-computer interfacing systems may be due to generational norms, said Aaron Brauser, vice president of product management at the locally based First Insight, a consumer analysis firm. “I think it’s a generational thing, where it takes a while for people to get comfortable with technology and it incrementally grows.”
Therefore, a college bookstore may be the ideal location to test such an application, as college students are, according to Brauser, “much more apt to be comfortable” with this sort of openly accessible device.

There are high hopes for the proposed interface panels to improve store economics as well as the shoppers’ individual experiences.
“I wish that more stores had this. I can’t wait for the day when you can walk into a Target or Best Buy and know where everything is,” said Brian Humbarger, a first-year CIT student.