How New Technology Is Reshaping Your Retirement Experience

I interviewed John Hummelstad, Non-Executive Chairman of Yeahpoint, at the National Retail Federation in New York in January, 2010. 

Julia Valentine: John, welcome. What does your company do?

John Hummelstad: Yeahpoint was established in 2004 to bring self-service kiosk solutions to retail. It helps provide a platform for providing messages from brands to people walking through the stores.

JV: So, you provide kiosks, and if you’re walking through a store and can’t find a salesperson, you can come up to it and click on it. There are so many products and so much information out there. We need support finding our way…

JH: Stores are trying to drive down the costs and hire fewer people, so what’s going to fill in this gap? We always want things cheaper. So, you can do that through production (making things cheaply), delivery (making it more efficient to get to people) or through retail. We have seen it online, the eBay phenomenon and the development of low-cost items. We want low cost.

At the same time, we want a high level of service. So, this is a conundrum because instead of saying, I will pay more for a higher level of service, we say, I want to pay less for a higher level service! It seems odd, but the reality is, that’s what we expect! And that’s why companies like Yeahpoint exist – to bring self-service into the retail experience. So you can find the information if you cannot find that shop assistant.

JV: As people get older, should they expect to see more of this in the stores? Will they need to keep up with the times if they want to be ok?

JH: It’s enabling and not something we need to fear! And our philosophy at Yeahpoint is that you get a result in 3 touches! That result could be a coupon printed for a discount. Or, you can walk up to it and – without touching it – the kiosk will recognize you and offer you a 10% discount on a shirt that could go with the pair of pants that you bought last time.

JV: Are people going to be scared that the kiosk remembered their face?

JH: Some will, some won’t! Privacy is always a big issue. But at the same time, we have purses and wallets filled with cards, would be nice to get rid of some of those.

JV: And it feels good when a sales associate remembers your face and welcomes you back.

JH: Yes, if an assistant came up to you and said, “Nice to see you back in the store. I saw you bought a blouse last time.” Would you say, “How the hell did you know that?”

JV: “Get away from me!”

JH: But if a machine does it…

JV: That’s your frame of mind: do you see it as a service, or an intrusion? What are a couple of examples?

JH: You walk into a vitamins isle. You’re confronted by a sea of colors and offerings. We have a kiosk in the middle of this that says, would you like to know about the vitamins. Yes. One push. What are your symptoms? You say, I have a sore throat. The kiosk says, here are a bunch of vitamins you can take. That’s so easy, rather than looking across 500 vitamins, taking a bottle and turning each one...

JV: ...and it’s in a very small font as well.

JH: Here’s another example. You want to change the oil in the car. You know the type of car you have and engine capacity. Bingo! It tells you your range of options. Another one: if you have a printer and go to a store to buy a cartrige, it will prompt you to remember which one you need.

JV: What would you tell a person who’s dreadfully afraid of technology – at any age, by the way.

JH: Of course, at any age. Let’s face it, we’re all confronted by technology. The acceleration of technology is terrifying for everyone. We say rejoice in it, but the reality is, we’re confronted by it. If kiosk self-service technology is not easy to use, as a provider, we failed.

You’re saying, it is not the technology per se, it’s how well it is designed for your use. So, instead of saying, "I don’t want to deal with technology," you’re saying, "This is poorly designed, doesn’t address my needs, so I don’t like it!" But if it is user-friendly, and your kiosks are big – and you are just pushing buttons – then maybe it’s not such a big deal!

It’s as frustrating to see poorly-designed technology as it is to get a cart that turns poorly when you’re going through a super-market. To me, it must work, must function, and must be easy to use! If it doesn’t do these things, as a provider, we fail.

JV: You’re blaming it entirely on the provider.

JH: Right! In retail, you get a split-second to get attention, and if you don’t do it well, they’ll go somewhere else.

JV: We need to set the foundation for everything – finance, health. The same goes for work. People complain about age discrimination. So, the 75% of Americans who intend to work after 65 will be dealing with this technology, right? If you’re going to be a part of temporary workforce over Christmas in a retail environment, you’ll be standing next to kiosks like this. If you volunteer in a hospital, you’ll see one, too. And people are going to come up to you and say, "Would you help me with this."

JH: Absolutely. And the best way to get familiar with it is to try it. Experiment.

JV: What are the 3 things you’d tell someone who sees your kiosk?

JH: 1. Don’t be scared. You’re not going to break it. If you break it, it’s not your fault.

2. Give it a try.

3. Remember it’s a great resource that’s at your disposal for when you need to research things.

It’s an opportunity. Take advantage of it! If you take it, others will turn to you for help as well.

JV: This is wonderful! Thank you so much, John!

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