As consumers return to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, one thing is clear: contactless retail encounters have become a focal point. According to a recent small business (SB) study conducted by Visa, responding SB owners identified the five top areas for growth needed in 2022. These are:
- Offering new products or services (41%)
- Increasing social media presence (40%)
- New online channels (33%)
- Investing more in marketing (33%)
- Accepting new forms of payment (32%)
And here’s what the study found was most important to consumers (outside of price):
- Convenience (63%)
- Good previous experience (60%)
- Personal safety (54%)
- Urgency for product or service (52%)
- Accept digital payments (36%)
Many of the items in both lists above incorporate some form of the contactless retail concept. As retailers revamp their business models to meet the needs of today’s customers, they are finding they will need to offer some type of contactless retail method(s) to be competitive.
What is Contactless Retail?
Contactless (or touchless) retail is an umbrella term that covers four separate retail concepts—so it often means different things to different people. Each of the four concepts has a distinct definition and requires unique technologies and protocols. Let’s take a look at each of these contactless retail concepts.
1. BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up in Store)
With BOPIS, products are ordered online from a store and are waiting at the check-out counter by the time the customer arrives to pick them up. This hands-free approach enables customers to avoid shopping in the physical store, mingling with other shoppers and store employees, and standing in line—and it saves time, too.
2. Contactless Payment
Initially developed for security purposes, mobile wallets and tap-to-pay technology enable the public to make in-store payments without having to come into contact with germ-laden devices such as keypads and credit card readers.
3. Curbside Pickup
Curbside pickup entails ordering online or via phone, then driving to the seller’s establishment and meeting a worker waiting at the curb with the purchased goods. The hallmarks are not having to leave the car and minimal contact with others. Restaurants most commonly use this solution; however, other types of retailers offer curbside pickup as well.
ECommerce involves exclusive online retailers (like Amazon) or front-end stores (like Target or Walmart) that offer online order-and-delivery services. With zero contact with another human being, goods can be ordered, paid for, and delivered to a user’s front door. An exciting aspect of this contactless retail concept is its recent experimentation with drone product delivery.
Contactless Retail is the Future
Statistics tell us that consumers want an omnichannel approach to shopping. Let’s take a look at some recent figures:
- 67% of survey respondents say their online purchasing has increased since the start of the pandemic
- 91% said they are likely to continue online shopping in the future.
- 42% of respondents have a preference for curbside pickup.
- 33% prefer BOPIS shopping experiences
- 33% prefer shopping in physical stores
- 80% of respondents said their overall experience with a retail company is as important as its products
The Benefits of Contactless Shopping
Contactless shopping benefits retail companies and their customers alike.
- Adds value to your customer experience
- Competitive edge
- Customer retention
- Improved efficiency
- Opportunities for technology integration
- Personalization of services
- Reduced overhead expenses
- Easy, quick payments
- No long lines
- No need to handle cash
- No unnecessary contact with the public
- Saves time
- Secure shopping
Contactless Digital Experiences
There are a number of digital solutions that retailers can use to help them in their quest toward contactless opportunities for their customers. Let’s look at a few.
AR and VR
- Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can be used to create virtual fitting rooms where customers can try on clothing, shoes, and even cosmetics by placing the items over an image of the shopper.
There are some compelling statistics that tell us AR is quite popular with consumers.
- 44% of respondents say the ability to find the correct size is why they shop using AR.
- 76% said they would be more inclined to use virtual fitting rooms if it meant it would help them avoid having to return items.
- More than 50% prefer to see a representation of themselves in virtual avatars.
Scan-and-Go works like this:
- Shoppers download the store’s app onto their smartphones.
- While shopping, they simply scan the UPC barcode of each item they want to buy.
- When finished, they simply show the digital receipt to the employee at the door and go.
- All payments are made online.
Surveys show that 77 percent of shoppers are more willing to shop at stores with scan-and-go capabilities.
A self-service kiosk is a tablet or touchscreen computer that allows customers access to information or services without contacting employees. The use of self-service kiosks allows shoppers/visitors to:
- Place and pay for orders
- Check-in and be tracked for appointments
- Purchase items not currently in stock
- Scan items for a quick price check
- Register personal information necessary for the company
- Use as a directory to locations or for directions (in a mall, for example)
Self-service kiosks are extremely popular with the public, as 80 percent of today’s shoppers like to use these non-traditional checkout options.
Online shopping is the ultimate contactless shopping method. These days, retailers must have a website or mobile app to expand their business reach. In addition, key business elements such as inventory management, accounting, sales tracking, and rewards programs can be integrated. A whopping 263 million people (and counting) in the U.S. shop online.
Technology Must Be Adequate and Up-to-Date
Providing contactless services to customers will probably lead most retail business owners to a comparative assessment of their company’s current technology capabilities. The Harvard Business Review states:
“This is where next-generation digital technologies can make a massive impact, enabling new forms of ‘contactless commerce.’ Contactless commerce can take various forms: a fitting-room mirror that automatically displays the clothing items you’ve just selected from the racks or a virtual fashion advisor on your phone who whispers advice on the season’s latest fashions. Contactless commerce is being enabled by a wide range of new technologies, including machine learning, robotics, and computer-aided holography. It is set to transform all elements of the customer experience, from product comparison to selection to checkout.”
Another case in point is Power over Ethernet (PoE). While this technology is not strictly new (the first type of PoE was ratified in 2003), it is now a technology of choice for many smart applications, such as smart LED lighting systems. In addition, PoE is used to power self-service kiosks, advertising kiosks, digital signage, and point-of-sale (POS) systems. To learn more about PoE, click here.