The Future of Contactless Retail

The future is now. Up until a few months ago, many offices vowed they would never support remote workers. Small businesses couldn’t imagine fielding a high volume of out-of-storefront orders. And you couldn’t get delivery from the liquor store down the street. But here we are, Summer 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic — with a majority work-from-home whitecollar workforce, to-go cocktails from our favorite restaurants, and a totally turned over retail industry. 

“Contactless” is one of the top new concepts to enter our collective vocabulary, as consumers, employees, and proprietors. The idea as well as the practice of contactless retail has been around for long enough in a variety of forms, but in the face of the COVID-19 virus, it is becoming an integral and necessary part of retail culture. 

What exactly does this look like, moving forward? In this article, we take a brief look at what contactless retail is, how it’s changing, and how businesses can get on board. 

What is Contactless Retail

This is where we’d normally say something pithy like, “exactly how it sounds.” Which in the case of contactless retail is partially true, but this umbrella term covers a number of different retail concepts which are important to define and understand as distinct ideas. Because ‘contactless retail’ can mean a number of different things, and each requiring unique technologies and protocols. 

Ecommerce – These are exclusive online retailers, or fronted stores with an online order-and-delivery capability. Think Amazon, Target, or Alibaba. With the click of a button, and from the safety of your home, a product is magically delivered to your doorstep, with no contact made between you and another human. Amazon has taken the definition of ‘contactless’ in this instance to a whole new level by beginning to experiment with drone product delivery. 

BOPIS – Buy online, pick up in store. This allows customers to skip the line, the browsing, the mingling with other shoppers and go straight to the check-out counter where the products you purchased at home are waiting for you. This minimizes contact made between customers and retailers, as well as shoppers.

Curbside Pickup – The restaurateurs’ best friend amid shelter-in-place mandates. Customers either place an order online or phone it in, and then meet a representative of the business “curbside” to pick up their order. Contact is only made between the customer and employee during the exchange.  

Contactless Payment – Tap-to-pay and mobile payment in-store allow customers to make minimal contact with high-traffic equipment such as credit card readers and keypads whilst in store. Originally introduced as a security measure, this method of currency exchange is proving especially useful in the era of physical distancing and necessarily sterile surfaces. 

How Rapidly Changing Consumer Behavior is Defining the Overall Contactless Experience

Contactless shopping strategies are swiftly becoming the favorite retail method of consumers worldwide. Many experts believe that consumer’s preference for contactless retail experiences will persist post-pandemic, meaning that online shopping, minimal browsing, and distanced in-person retail experiences are and will remain the norm. 

A number of key factors must be referenced when considering how consumer behavior is affecting new trends in retail. 

Mindfulness – How and what consumers are purchasing has shifted dramatically over the last several months. A change in values and what customers consider ‘essential’, as well as economic strain across the world, means that consumers are thinking hard about what they allocate finances for. Many consumers are shopping cheaper, less often, or cutting certain products and services out of their budgets completely.

Online and Omnichannel – Necessities still need to be purchased. It’s impossible to get through life in the world as it is with zero expenditure, and more and more customers are going online for their daily necessities, as well as more luxurious purchases. Even as brick-and-mortar establishments begin to reopen, many customers have expressed that they will continue to prefer online and distanced experiences — for the convenience as much as for health and safety reasons. 

A Shift in Loyalty – Fierce brand identification which has driven consumer habits has been interrupted by disruptions to the supply chain and other issues of availability. Customers with strong preferences have been forced to find their favorite items elsewhere, and many businesses are experiencing tumultuous customer bases as a result.

Caring Economy – Customers want to support retailers they can trust, namely those implementing safety measures put in place to keep their consumers safe and healthy. Consumers are tending to buy more, and more frequently from businesses with safer packaging, and better employee health practices.

How Technology is the Critical Ingredient to Any Contactless Ordering and Handoff Experience

What would this have been like 70 years ago, before credit cards were a standard form of payment? Or even 20, when flip phones still ruled the earth? Modern technology is the essential piece of the puzzle which enables the reality of contactless retail today. 

Ordering – From catalogue to one-click online purchasing, contactless buying is news as old as the hills, but it is simpler, faster, and more ubiquitous than ever. There is a buying option for every level of tech-trust and savviness, across almost any industry you can think of. Grocery shopping, car buying, pet adoptions, home improvement supplies, bottled cocktails, etcetera, etcetera, remain available to the public from a safe and contactless distance.

And many online retail experiences still manage to produce the feeling of browsing in a brick-and-mortar store, scrolling through pages of items looking for that one thing you need in that one color you love, lending a sense of normality to a shopping experience. 

Handoff – Here’s the tricky part. Even services that we’re used to, such as food delivery, have always mandated some amount of contact. Packages must be signed for, the pizza guy has to hand you your extra large with mushrooms, you inevitably brush fingers with the cashier while handing them a 20. This is the aspect of contactless retail we’re still not very good at. 

But we’re figuring it out. Food delivery apps like DoorDash and Postmates offer a contactless form of delivery whereby the driver drops off the customer’s order and then texts them a picture of the package on their doorstep. Carvana, in an act of near-psychic anticipation, invented vehicle vending machines where shoppers can pick up their new vehicle using their phone, completely unaided by another human. And we can all rest assured that as the new normal goes on, new technologies enabling safe and contact-free retail experiences will continue to become available. 

How Companies Can Move to a Contactless Retail Experience

Here are 4 major ways businesses can join the new contactless retail revolution. 

  • Implement contactless payments. It’s rare to find a brick-and-mortar business that doesn’t already have contactless payment capabilities, however for many small businesses with retail fronts, the available technology for processing tap-cards or QR payments may be prohibitively expensive. But you’d be equally hard-pressed to find a consumer without a venmo account or other method of mobile payment. Payment without touch is an ongoing trend which businesses need to join today.
  • Have an online presence. Whatever you do, you should offer customers a way to browse. Enterprise businesses have the luxury of vast online catalogs which seamlessly replicate an in-person retail experience, often offering a wider selection than in-store even, but small businesses can make themselves known on the web in other ways. Instagram and Facebook both offer convenient and accessible platforms which are inexpensive and easy to use. Additionally, your business must be able to allow customers to make purchases remotely, whether or not it is delivered or picked up.
  • Up Your Customer Service. Contactless customer service cannot be left out of the conversation. Consumers demand that their favorite companies step it up to meet their ever-changing needs during times of global crisis, and businesses should be ready to handle any inquiries or complaints that come their way, across multiple channels of communication. 

How Gladly Can Be a Key Component

Contactless customer support is what we do. Our support systems keep things radically personal, and your customers will feel like royalty when they contact your business through the Gladly platform. People-oriented customer service technology allows you to track customer history including lifetime value and past conversations for service that is seamless, efficient, and keeps your consumers returning to your business. Now, you can even have online shoppers pay through live chat as they speak to your online customer service representatives. 

To see how Gladly can work for you, visit our website today at Gladly.com.

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