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Contactless Retail - The Way Forward For In-store Retail

August 10, 2021


Technology has been revolutionizing the entire shopping experience for quite some time. Consumers now have access to a wide variety of products and personalized experiences at just a click of a button. With the evolving technology, the shopping behavior of consumers is also changing rapidly. Moreover, COVID restrictions have added further dimensions to consumer shopping behavior. According to a study conducted by Oracle to understand post-covid consumer behavior,

76% of the shoppers believed that they would feel safe in a retail outlet when social distancing norms are followed. Whereas 66% strongly believed that contactless checkout options would make them feel safer. 71% of consumers stated that the speed of service, checkout experience, and delivery options are critical to staying loyal to a retailer.

So, as the world moves to a new normal, convenience and safety have emerged as the new dimensions impacting purchase decisions.

Yet another visible characteristic of consumer behavior is that consumers have become intolerant towards inefficient checkouts and long queues. They expect the payment process at a physical store to be as easy and intuitive as it is in the case of online shopping. Although contactless technology has been there for quite some time now, COVID-appropriate behaviour and safety restrictions have acted as a catalyst for its increased adoption. As a result, many retailers have started adopting newer technologies. A study done by Forrester for the NationalRetail Federation (NRF) of the USA stated that

67% of retailers surveyed had accepted some form of contactless payment post-COVID.

It also added that utilization of contactless payments services has increased for around 69% of the retailers. Contactless payment is just the tip of the iceberg; consumers wish to have minimum contact experience throughout their decision-making journey.

Keeping with this customer demand, there are various ways in which a physical store can deploy contactless retail. We have tried to explain some of them are in this blog.  

Just Walk Out 

Global eCommerce giant, Amazon developed this technology by "leveraging the same type of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning." The shopper need not download any app or create an Amazon account. All they need is a credit card. All the items a shopper picks are added to their virtual carts. If a shopper decides to keep an item back, the item gets deleted from the cart. Just pick the item and walk out of the store, and the payment will be charged to the credit cards. If a shopper wants a receipt, they will need to enter their email address at a kiosk in the store, and the receipt will be emailed to them. 

The initial version of the technology was deployed at Amazon Go stores, and the technology has only improved and matured since then. Amazon is offering its Just Walk Out technology to other in-store retailers and has even built a separate website to answer their queries. Although Amazon pioneered the technology, other retailers such as 7 Eleven and Walmart have also jumped on the bandwagon to test their cashier-less technology.

Magic Mirrors

The Make-up and Jewelry industries have been using VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) predominantly to display how a particular product will look on a customer. With the increased need for social distancing, various retailers such as Macy's and Adidas are also actively deploying the technology. The industry is worried that try-out rooms will be obsolete in the future, and hence, they are spending more on developing their virtual-try-out algorithms. This technology requires a mobile device or a kiosk with a screen with embedded functionalities. The device either takes a picture or, in real-time, displays how various combinations of items will virtually look on the customer. Mirrors embedded with this type of functionalities are called Smart mirrors or Magic mirrors. This amalgamation of VR, AR, and deep learning avoids the trouble a customer will need to go through while trying various jewelry or clothing combinations. It will also provide a personalized experience to the customer based on their insights from previous purchase history. And in a post-COVID scenario, it will be the safest option to try something out.

Digital Wallets

One way to reduce shopping hassles for the consumer is to ease the payment process, which essentially has become the bottleneck of in-store retail shopping. Digital Wallets such as GooglePay and ApplePay are easy no-touch checkout options. Stable internet connectivity is the primary requirement to pay through any digital wallet. But connecting to the store Wi-Fi can be a nightmare. HSC's New Generation Hotspot (NGH) solves this by facilitating easy and secure Wi-Fi onboarding along with easy Wi-Fi roaming.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) embedded debit/credit cards is another no-contact payment option. It allows transactions with a simple tap on the payment terminal. The cardholder can wave/tap the card on the POS terminal to make payments. The Wi-Fi-like symbol on a credit/debit card means that it is capable of tap-and-go payments. 

Curbside Pick-up

Popularly known as BOPIS (Buy online pick-up in-store), curbside pick-up lets retailers take orders online through a website or mobile app. The shopper can pick their products from a designated pre-assigned spot without the need for any manual interaction at the retail store. As a result, BOPIS helps retailers strengthen their omnichannel strategy. Also, given the pandemic delays and lockdown, curbside pick-up lets shoppers get their daily necessities by making a quick pitstop.

Digital Signage

Digital Signage is electronic signage that displays a mix of text, pictures, and videos. These displays are generally controlled by a central system and can be programmed to show live streams. It is used for various purposes such as marketing, wayfinding, and exhibitions. The retail industry uses it extensively to advertise its products digitally. Digital signage uses technologies like sensors, RFID, beacons, and machine learning to monitor the environment and provide promotional messages based on cues. They can also use a camera to identify demography, age, gender, and other information of the passerby. Advanced versions of digital signage provide suggestions about discounts, various items, location of an item, payment options, etc. The more advanced this technology gets, the less need for the shopping staff to assist the shoppers for a better consumer experience. 

Conclusion 

Brick-and-Mortar store owners already have an advantage of touch and feel. Many customers still believe that online shopping cannot provide them with the satisfaction they get when purchasing offline. It is true that due to the ongoing pandemic that seems to prolong its stay, customers are apprehensive of going and shopping at stores. If store owners succeed in providing an effortless shopping experience and a safe contactless in-store environment, they will win their customers back in no time. The obvious next step will be to keep a tab on the consumers' preferences- their interests, in-store movement patterns, how they behave in a particular aisle/zone, and which online sites they visit when in-store to compare the products with online competitors. E-commerce websites are at an advantage already as they have numerous insights about their consumers. To stay competitive, offline retailers also need to gather such information from all their touchpoints. There are powerful tools like the Intelligent Monetization Platform available in the market that provides all the above-mentioned knowledgeable insights (and more) by gathering data from multiple touchpoints.

There is no sure shot way to predict how customer behavior will evolve in the future. But a retailer must be willing to understand how its consumers think, what they buy, and why, and then provide them with a hassle-free and effortless shopping experience.






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