Marc Nicols is a touchy-feely kind of guy.

The director of strategic and corporate solutions for Mississauga, Ont.-based TouchPoint Media is banking on the societal urge to poke and prod at technology en route to a full embrace. TouchPoint’s terminals are designed to provide instant public access to the Internet’s transactional e-commerce capabilities.

While touch screen technology is nothing new, Nicols insisted TouchPoint’s interactive kiosks – which can be tailor-made to appear as requested (that is, I want my TouchPoint kiosk to look like a really big aspirin tablet) – can withstand the test of time and abuse that former touch-screen incarnations could not.

“We can pretty well create whatever our clients dictate to us. If those requirements are environmentally sensitive, whether that be some kind of moisture protection or shock protection, we can accommodate that too,” Nicols said.

“The (public’s) experience with the current generation of kiosks is a rather mixed one,” he admitted.

Touch screen technology has been given the knock in the past for being unable to take a knock. But according to Generosa Litton, an industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan in Mountain View, Calif., touch screens aren’t so touchy anymore.

“The original design and applications (of touch screens) were poorly executed. They weren’t really designed for public use,” she said. “Now, it’s a very sound strategy (for a retailer) to offer one in-store, as the consumer has become more used to buying products on-line. It’s another channel to offer your staff and your customers.”

TouchPoint Media offers a variety of plug and play Web kiosk software components such as ticket printing, e-mail, course registration, customer surveys and database functions. Moreover, the TouchPoint kiosks can connect to virtually any network, and can perform merchandise sales with support for credit card processing in real time over a specified network. The system is also able to interface to a client’s supply chain and accounting systems.

Francie Mendelsohn, president of Summit Research Associates in Rockville, Md., specializes in touch screen kiosk consulting, and she believes TouchPoint Media’s is in a good position.

“Their timing is perfect, especially from an e-commerce perspective,” she said. “Touch screen kiosks deserved the knocks (for being unreliable in the past)…but that was a few years ago. Now, a lot of big stores are [employing kiosks], for it allows a store to have no walls.”

A recent study on the state of Canadian business and its adoption rate of e-commerce solutions revealed Canadian enterprises have been hesitant to get on-line. That could possibly put TouchPoint Media in an enviable position to bridge the gap between retailing and e-tailing.

TouchPoint isn’t limiting its options, but the organization is currently focusing its efforts on the retail industry in particular.

“Companies like Walmart, Ace Hardware and Border’s Books in the U.S. are all starting to look at using kiosks very seriously,” Mendelsohn said. “Sure it’s good to have a Web site with an e-commerce solution built in, but with over five million Web sites out there, how will your customer know about yours? [Businesses] will be successful if their employees buy into [using the kiosk] and bringing customers to it, provided they see it as another sales associate as opposed to a threat to their jobs.” Employers will need to use incentives to promote its use amongst their staff, she said.

Touch screen technology is the best possible avenue for reaching a wide demographic, Mendelsohn said.

“If you’re trying to reach the biggest, broadest population, then touch screen kiosks are the way to go,” she reasoned.

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