How contactless
shopping can
create a more
retail experience

Author: Shane Schick

Consumers might have once defined convenience as access to a wide assortment of products or a short wait in a checkout line. Today, the emergence of contactless shopping experiences is creating new expectations and more opportunities for retailers to grow their businesses.

This may start with the ability to make purchases without digging for dollars and coins out of wallets and exchanging them with store staff. According to a recent survey, 44% of small businesses believe that contactless or other mobile payment options are a crucial investment to meet customer needs, while 74% of small and mid-sized businesses expect their customers will continue to prefer contactless payments as much as or more than they do currently.

However, payments are just the beginning. Contactless shopping can encompass a wide range of technologies that transform retail experiences throughout the customer journey. This includes not only checkout but also the moment they arrive at a store and what happens when they're choosing products.

Contact retail technology at a glance

The Harvard Business Review recently provided an overview of what it called contactless commerce. The analyst who authored it suggested that some of the technologies to bring about such experiences have been available for years, but they have been adopted more rapidly following the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the examples of the tools for contactless retail include machine learning, robotics, big data analytics, augmented reality and computer vision.

A consumer might use their credit card or a mobile app to check in as they arrive at a retail location, for instance. Consumers could opt in to allow computer vision applications to recognize them at a turnstile embedded with sensors or at a kiosk.

Meanwhile, machine learning applications can be trained to recognize thousands of stock keeping units (SKUs), which can then be tracked via sensors when customers pick products up from the shelves. That means the same customers could leave the store and have their credit cards automatically charged without having to wait in a checkout line.

How contactless shopping can improve the retail employee experience

Giving customers more autonomous shopping capabilities is obviously empowering and convenient, but it could also address challenges faced by retail employees. Traditionally, an employee might have spent much of his or her time trying to juggle requests from multiple customers at once, including tracking down products or information that technology could allow customers to find on their own.

Increased use of contactless shopping can potentially allow employees to focus on more productive tasks or on only those shoppers that require or prefer employee assistance, which might also help to address some of the current challenges of labor shortages in the retail sector. Contactless shopping options could also allow stores to remain open at off-peak times that are more convenient for some shoppers that employees may prefer not to work, such as holidays, weekends and overnight.

In a recent report, Retail Systems Research writes that moving to contactless retail will require network-centric (or cloud-based) applications rather than in-store technology in contactless environments. This could mean turning to multi-access edge computing (MEC), which brings technology resources closer to the end user by processing data at the edge rather than in a remote data center or a regional cloud. MEC can reduce latency and allow retailers using autonomous shopping technologies to offer innovative applications that perform in close to real time.

What contactless retail might look like in the near future

While many retailers are actively exploring autonomous shopping technologies today, there is plenty of room left to add more value and greater convenience. Possibilities include:

  • A mobile check-in progress that customers can access through a branded app
  • Touchless payments through a mobile app or an in-store kiosk
  • Scan-and-go mobile app for self-checkout
  • Turn-by-turn in-store navigation to find products without the assistance of a store associate
  • Scanning QR codes for product information

In the meantime, the goals for contactless shopping experiences will likely be to help consumers find what they want more easily and help them buy it faster. Cashierless checkout technologies can help stores better manage inventory and minimize labor costs.

Learn more about how you could begin the journey to contactless retail today.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.