Give shoppers more autonomy with contactless commerce
Today, consumers demand safe and convenient shopping, and they want everything—from product information and payments to fulfillment—to be instant.
About 87% of shoppers want curbside pickup to continue and 65% prefer payments and other transactions to be contactless. Innovative retailers are redefining benchmarks by enabling contactless commerce—a collective term for contactless experiences in fulfillment, payments, and products. Contactless commerce not only enables touchless interactions across the entire shopping journey, it also ensures safe, personalized, and frictionless shopping experiences and provides more autonomy to shoppers. Here is an example of contactless commerce in action (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Contactless commerce: Driving superior customer experiences
The idea is not to make transactions devoid of all human touch, but to make them consistent through predictable experiences and processes not dependent on people working at the store. Contactless retail comes with huge upsides: greater customer loyalty and retention, and a higher percentage of wallet share.
Bridge the gap, extend the online experience to stores
The democratization of new-age technologies, especially digital, has created immense opportunities to drive superior customer experience.
Digital technologies that enable contactless commerce to bridge the gap between in-store and online experience will be integral for seamless omnichannel retail experiences.
Product information and discovery: Customers who buy online have access to a plethora of information throughout the shopping journey, a facet missing in an in-store experience. A simple product barcode scanner can give in-store customers access to product reviews on their mobiles. Technologies such as electronic shelf labels (ESLs) and computer vision can bring to life content on product usage and DIY instructional videos. Augmented reality (AR) can make product discovery an immersive experience. Retailers can gather insights from these interactions to personalize customer experiences and build loyalty.
Payments: In-store shoppers increasingly want contactless digital payment options—through facial recognition, in-app payments, or phone wallets. Non-digital tender methods such as cash transactions can be enabled through dedicated payment kiosks or by allowing cart transfer to a self-checkout kiosk. By offering additional digital services like ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) or ‘bill me later’ (BML), which offer the convenience of low monthly payments, retailers can increase conversions.
Fulfillment and delivery: Often, a bad fulfillment experience spoils an otherwise impeccable in-store or online experience, making customers to disregard the high points of the overall journey. Many retailers have extended their shopping aisles to (literally) the curbs, allowing shoppers to complete shopping without having to leave their cars. They have long experimented with buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) model. Dark stores are gaining momentum as stores with low footfall are repurposed as fulfillment hubs, cutting delivery times.
Post purchase: Conversational AI is increasingly being adopted for query resolution through contact centers. AI can understand natural language and respond to customer queries just like a human. For returns and refunds, customers don’t need to stand in queues. They can talk to a virtual assistant to register returns and drop off items at a returns station. A combination of computer vision, image recognition, product dimension matching, and customer profile that link products to customers can automate refunds. The post-purchase support can also be proactive. Retailers can track the journey of perishables even after they are sold. When products near expiry, retailers can trigger refill recommendations based on customer profile, creating value for customers and giving them more reasons to stay.
Contactless commerce maturity levels
Digital savvy retailers have a leg up with the technology constructs required to succeed while traditional retailers are taking measured steps.
Many retailers see the surge in contactless commerce as temporary and are making system and process-level changes to ride this out.They are migrating applications to cloud, adding people to call centers, and relying on third parties to address scale. A few others are going all out to retool their ecosystem to provide top-notch services, be it newer fulfillment options like buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) and dark stores, newer payment options (buy now pay later or BNPL, and subscriptions), or product information. While the goal is to ensure sufficient headroom and scale in infrastructure, often, it outstrips the relevance and tolerance of business processes, reducing the RoI to a fraction of what it can be.
Digital natives such as Amazon have a leg up in this new world order with the technology constructs required to succeed. Elements such as rich product information, deep customer data, payment gateways and operations, fulfillment orchestration, and customer service are already pivotal to their current business model, and the contactless store (Amazon Go) is but an extension of these building blocks.
Behemoths like Walmart, with years of improvements and investments in their current systems and applications, are taking measured, surefooted steps in their journey towards providing a fully contactless experience. They have introduced multiple contactless options such as BOPIS and self-checkout. 7-Eleven takes it a bit further with mobile checkouts and encourages them with app-exclusive deals. In the cosmetic world, players like L’Oréal are taking greater leaps. L’Oréal’s hair color concierge tool uses AI for virtual try-on and enables customers to book virtual consultations. L’Oréal Skin Genius, an AI-powered skin analysis tool, helps design personalized skincare routines.