David Pearce, Technical Director, Star Micronics EMEA
Key considerations when selecting a kiosk printer
Given their inherent versatility alongside a desire by retailers to reduce their cost base, kiosks have become part of a retailer’s overall omnichannel customer engagement strategy, offering users a convenient endless aisle experience across various categories, in addition to providing a means of reducing waiting times.
Reducing queues while encouraging greater customer engagement, an enhanced shopping experience and improved service efficiency, self-service kiosks are experiencing significant growth. Empowering customers to manage a variety of processes whether it’s ordering a meal, checking into a hotel, or navigating the check-out at a supermarket, their presence has become more pronounced in a wide range of applications. And it is not just in retail and hospitality, as we witness their growing deployment in areas such as visitor management and ID verification, driven most recently by the pandemic.
Whatever the application, the printer is crucial to a kiosk’s successful design and operation. A printer that does not operate efficiently can render the kiosk unusable and may result in the kiosk being offline more often than it is operating, negatively impacting the customer experience and service efficiency. Furthermore, given the range of connectivity options that can enhance both the versatility and functionality of a kiosk, the printer has a pivotal role to play.
Kiosk Design / Profile
Kiosk printer manufacturers have had to adapt to produce printer mechanisms small enough to fit into the current trend of sleek, space-saving kiosks, while still maintaining a reasonable paper roll size. Designing the printer to fit perfectly into a kiosk not only maximises space but ensures optimal performance, particularly with regard to paper path, while a high-quality printer is key to the reliable operation of the kiosk. This is especially relevant in high volume applications where the printer is subject to continuous use and faultless printouts are demanded every time.
A further consideration is the type of kiosk printer, whether modular open frame or front operating packaged. Modular open frame printers offer a robust high-performance solution especially for kiosks located outdoors, with highly-compact models ideal for limited space enclosures. However, driven by their lower cost compared to the modular open frame printer, as well as their ease to install, use and maintain, the packaged printer has seen its profile rise, often successfully bridging the gap between a compact footprint and ease of use.
Packaged printers are ideal for self-service kiosks where staff are physically present to replenish print media. Most kiosk printers have a standard size paper holder and a large capacity option. If frequent paper roll changes are required, this can be time-consuming, so it is essential to choose a printer that has the correct paper roll capacity for the application. Furthermore, in a busy retail or hospitality environment, the front-operating packaged printer with drop-in paper loading provides a compact printing solution that facilitates easy paper roll changes.
The printer should be equipped with sensors and paper status alerts to notify when a kiosk is low on paper, has a paper jam or is offline. These should ideally be centrally visible so the status of an entire estate of printers can be viewed to keep operations moving efficiently. Moreover, a kiosk printer that supports digital receipts is an additional benefit and reduces paper consumption.
A printer with a horizontal orientation takes up more space while a vertical kiosk printer is better suited to a narrow-width enclosure, taking up less space and leaving more room for additional components such as integrated scanners, chip and pin or RFID modules.
Printers can operate on a cut-and-drop basis or incorporate a presenter or bezel, depending on the application. On certain kiosk printer models, the presenter prevents paper jams caused by the paper being taken before printing is complete thus increasing reliability as well as security by having the facility to retract untaken tickets. The bezel is positioned between the kiosk slot and the printer to provide an exit path for the paper.
Easy to install and maintain, the packaged printer with a range of connectivity options can be the ideal solution for internet connected services. Choosing a printer with a variety of interface options, including innovative Cloud technologies, enhances the kiosk’s printing capability. This is important as the type of interface and the ports the printer has will dictate how the printer communicates.
The rise in online ordering across multiple channels is resulting in greater demand for self-service kiosks for applications such as Click & Collect in-store orders and returns. In order to meet this demand, a printer that is equipped for remote printing of receipts and tickets directly from a web server to connected printers located anywhere is a key requirement. Moreover, with remote functionality, the printer can be managed from any location.
Reliable connectivity is essential in a self-service kiosk. By integrating a printer with a built-in hub, a compact, intelligent printing solution provides direct communication between the tablet OS and printer giving the developer the option to also show printer-state detail on the screen, or just create events on the central management system. Direct connectivity via the standard Apple Lightning cable or USB-C cable can be used to not only charge the tablet but also control the printer attached peripherals such as BCR, RFID reader, keypad etc. With direct cabled control of the printer and attached peripherals as well as Ethernet provision to the tablet from the wired Ethernet port of the printer, constant connectivity is assured.
Ease of integration
Kiosk development is time-consuming, so it is important to choose a printer that offers a solution now as well as in the future. A comprehensive SDK and driver suite is essential for developers to simply integrate the printing solution, particularly when working with multiple printers or a large network of kiosks. An experienced and knowledgeable integration team to support and advise regarding both hardware choice and software development is vital.