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How Will Touchless Retail Shape Re-emergence After COVID-19?

Even though the first wave of COVID-19 has dialed down, shopping habits and customer preferences have changed permanently. According to a survey by Shekel, 87% of shoppers state they would prefer to shop in stores with touchless or robust self-checkout options to prevent contracting any viruses. However, touchless retail is more than just a safety measure: it’s about convenience. 

So let’s dive into the future of retail and brick-and-mortar and see what kind of features would shape it going forward.

What Is Touchless Retail, and Why Does it Matter?

In the context of in-store shopping, touchless retail means more than just ‘lack of physical contact’. Rather, it’s about a seamless customer journey that uses new and existing technologies to improve the overall shopping experience. For example, it could refer to a quicker payment that happens through POS so no cash has to change hands.

Touchless retail will undoubtedly gain more traction in the coming years, for the following reasons:

  • Buyers are more aware of hygiene than ever, and they’ll seek out stores that actively protect their customers’ safety 
  • A strong in-store experience still remains relevant, as some shoppers might wish to check a product in real life before buying it
  • Similarly, stores can be transformed into showrooms to promote product discovery, even if customers end up ordering the product online
  • On the other hand, certain customers might wish to avoid touching the products and instead opt for browsing through an in-store kiosk
  • Introducing touchless payment options can speed up the buying process, and the same technology can be used to enroll them into a loyalty program in a quick and painless way
  • You can maintain revenue despite the reduced traffic by offering curbside pickup and door-to-door delivery
Verizon has organized a full customer journey around touchless retail during COVID-19. It includes app-based appointments, social distancing measures, change in the furniture, touchless payments, and even curbside pickups.

Verizon has organized a full customer journey around touchless retail during COVID-19. It includes app-based appointments, social distancing measures, change in the furniture, touchless payments, and even curbside pickups.

Top 5 Touchless Retail Trends to Look Out for

1. Engagement Will Mostly Happen Through Smartphones

In the post-COVID-19 era, the retail experience will start at the customer’s home. During the lockdown, a large audience was introduced to online shopping and home delivery; And even though customers are  free to roam the shops now, the habit of checking a store’s offers on their phone will stay with them.

For this reason, a strong mobile presence will be an absolute must-have in the future. Acting quickly is key, however,companies with a dedicated app or a Mobile Wallet system will enjoy a headstart. Focusing on mobile engagement also unlocks additional opportunities for your business, such as push notifications, app-only discounts, digital loyalty cards, as well as mobile check-ins for customer support.

Going fully touchless, Marks & Spencer has relaunched its loyalty program to be an app-based digital-first service. Customers can identify themselves in the store using the app, and participate in in-store giveaways and claim various free gifts during checkout.

Going fully touchless, Marks & Spencer has relaunched its loyalty program to be an app-based digital-first service. Customers can identify themselves in the store using the app, and participate in in-store giveaways and claim various free gifts during checkout.

2. Showrooms Will Be the New Norms for Product Discovery

It doesn’t matter whether a customer wants to visit their favorite outlet, or wishes to stay at home, physical and digital showrooms can contribute to a memorable in-store experience in the era of touchless retail. The former is about transforming the real estate into a place where customers can test the products.

In terms of touchless retail, retailers can entice the more online-oriented audience, by establishing a virtual store on the website. Requiring a professional photographer and a 360-degree camera, virtual stores are digital replicas of a real-life store. Just think about Google Street View, but for stores. Shoppers can explore the store from the comfort of their home, bring up the catalog by clicking the shelves, and then buying products from it.

Diesel has introduced a similar concept via its Hyperrom, a 360-degree selling platform and virtual showroom. It was modeled after the company’s physical showroom in Milan.

Diesel has introduced a similar concept via its Hyperoom, a 360-degree selling platform and virtual showroom. It was modeled after the company’s physical showroom in Milan.

3. Loyalty Programs Will Be Aiding the Switch to Touchless Retail

The hardest part of adding a new feature or technology isn’t the integration, but rather enticing people to adopt it. Fortunately, next-gen loyalty programs are designed to change customer behavior and develop useful habits.

It’s quite possible that a customer’s first point of contact with touchless technologies will happen through a loyalty program. Traditional, physical membership cards are going out the door, and they’ll be replaced by digital cards. During checkout, customers can pull up their phones and have their loyalty ID be scanned by the cashier using a POS.

Scanning the loyalty card not only makes customers accustomed to touchless technologies, but also helps to bridge the gap between online and offline activities.

Scanning the loyalty card not only makes customers accustomed to touchless technologies, but also helps to bridge the gap between online and offline activities.

Also, new features that require customers to schedule an appointment make great members-only benefits for a loyalty program. To give you an example, high-tier loyalty program members have the opportunity to access a personal stylist while shopping at their favorite store. This is an opportunity for luxury fashion and other high-end retailers to provide a more exclusive and personalized experience to loyal customers.

Singapore-based fashion company Love, Bonito offers the ‘Book a Stylist’ feature as a members-only perk. On higher tier levels, members can even use the feature for free.

Singapore-based fashion company Love, Bonito offers the ‘Book a Stylist’ feature as a members-only perk. On higher tier levels, members can even use the feature for free.

4. Just Like Payment, Reward Redemption Will Be Contactless

Contactless payment had already been making rounds before the pandemic. Still, it made people realize that exchanging cash could be a major health risk — and not just during COVID-19. Therefore, paying via a credit/debit card or utilizing mobile payment through smartphones will become the norm in the future. But did you know that the same technology can also be used to manage in-store point collection and reward redemption for a loyalty program?

There are multiple options to choose from:

  • Deep integration: Transaction data is directly tracked by the brand’s POS, and the POS’s UI is modified to handle point burn & product return. All information is sent to the loyalty provider in real-time, using APIs or files.
  • Scanner device: An application on a phone or tablet is used to scan the customer’s digital loyalty card and then choose from three actions: grant points, deduct points or apply a discount. 
  • Card linking: Customers are offered bonus points for linking their credit card to the loyalty profile, so when they pay, the system automatically links the transaction data to the loyalty ID. 
  • Receipt scanning: Customers are asked to take a photo of the receipt by using their phone. Then they have to upload it using the mall’s mobile app or through a website landing page in order to receive points based on their spending. 
  • Cloud printing: The loyalty provider is linked to the brand’s smart printer. Every time a receipt is printed, the device simultaneously sends a requisite amount of information to the loyalty provider.
Contactless loyalty technologies are especially beneficial for malls or any company planning to run a coalition-type loyalty program because it makes it easier to unite the participating bands under the same roof.

Contactless loyalty technologies are especially beneficial for malls or any company planning to run a coalition-type loyalty program because it makes it easier to unite the participating brands under the same roof.

5. Delivery Will Be Touchless Too

It goes without saying that packaging and product delivery will also be affected by touchless retail. Amazon is already at the forefront of innovation, experimenting with the idea of drone-based order fulfillment. It’s still in development, though. In the meantime, customers need other solutions to receive their orders in a frictionless manner: curbside pickup. 

The concept is simple: customers can make an order online and set an arrival window. A staff member collects the requested goods and delivers them to the parking lot at the appointed time. Then the customer arrives in their car, loads in the goods, and speeds off. This way retailers can maintain high revenue while remaining touchless.

Curbside pickup is already present at grocery stores and supermarkets such as Walmart, but other industries could benefit from it as well.

Curbside pickup is already present at grocery stores and supermarkets such as Walmart, but other industries could benefit from it as well.

Forging Brand Loyalty in the Age of Touchless Retail

As you can see, touchless retail might shake up how you interact with your shoppers, but all the tools at your disposal — including loyalty programs — can be reshaped to meet this new customer reality. 

If you’re interested to learn more about how loyalty programs can support brick-and-mortars and retailers after COVID-19, then make sure to check out our related article. And as always, Antavo’s experts are ready to start a conversation to help you find the loyalty solution that matches your business goals. If you’re unsure what features you’d need, download this loyalty program comparison worksheet to see what Antavo has to offer.

Tamas Oszi
Tamas Oszi
Tamas is a Loyalty Specialist at Antavo with a keen eye for loyalty and customer retention research and trends. He studied philosophy and has a strong background in journalism. Tamas is a true gamer at heart and has an impressive collection of cyberpunk books.