The onset of the pandemic has driven a surge in online shopping and brands have adjusted to digital to meet this need. Unfortunately, a lot of brands miss out on the fact that shopping is not all about the product they are offering, the shopping experience also matters as much. With a worldwide pandemic, businesses are now working towards providing outstanding contactless shopping experiences.
The mega shift in customer behaviors and expectations was bound to happen at some point, the coronavirus pandemic only accelerated them. Regardless, brands ought to analyze and understand how the pandemic has affected their customers for them to create digital experiences that not only provide social interaction but are also safe, and seamless.
Pandemic Effects on Retail and Shopper Behavior
The pandemic forced people to stay in lockdown which stimulated the new customer behaviors in the context of media consumption, browsing, as well as making new product discoveries via their smartphones. To win over customers, brands need to design customer journeys that provide memorable experiences as customers lack the patience to hang around for gratification, and have a short attention span.
Here some of the new retail and shopper behavior that can be seen around as new technologies continue to advance.
Increased online traffic
Store visits have reduced because of the pandemic, and now shoppers are ordering products online. From the worry of social distancing, touching products already touched by other shoppers, and other shoppers not wearing masks, this has been a concern that has driven a lot of customers to shop online. What’s more, as online buying increases, confirmation for packages sent to buyers can be done virtually, reducing contact between the buyer and the seller.
Less Consumption Of Goods
Since the outbreak, a number of people have lost their jobs and this has affected their buying power. People can not shop the way they used to. Some people have had to reevaluate the importance of one commodity over another. The spending habits have drastically changed and priorities have changed, reducing the consumption of some goods.
An Emphasis on Health and Safety First
Retail shops have had to adhere to orders put in place in ensuring the spread of the coronavirus is minimal. In fact, health concerns among consumers have driven the numbers up to about 63% of online shoppers. The use of signage as a constant reminder of social distancing and wearing of masks. The number of customers at a time is small and store designs have changed so as to allow the flow of customers in a one-way route to reduce contact. Shoppers are now more than ever concerned about their safety and brands should be able to offer shopping experiences that deliver that. The use of augmented reality is seen as a key play at this point of the new system.
Technologies That Enable Contactless Shopping
The most efficient way to facilitate contactless shopping is through select technologies that have been introduced in different industries. From enabling customers to shop and try out items virtually to reducing interactions for in-store customers, businesses are doing it all.
To that end, the following is a rundown of technologies used to enable contactless shopping.
These work through a simple barcode scan via a smartphone camera. After scanning is done, a direct link between the merchant and the customer is produced.
QR codes have surged due to the “no-touch” mode of shopping. Businesses, especially restaurants are now using this technology to facilitate smart menus and contactless payments. Also, apps like Instagram have added QR to their profile features to allow easier discovery and connection among users.
The Hero app allows customers to scan unique QR codes for products from the app. This enables customers to browse and buy items they need away from the store without contact with the store attendants.
Even when customers start their purchase in-store, the sales made are also considered as eCommerce. Some payment processors have also contributed to the use of QR. In May, PayPal added QR codes to 28 markets around the world and waived transaction fees incurred during QR code sales.
The adoption of QR codes in shopping increased since customers were expected to remain comfortable with the new shopping systems as time went by.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Shoppers don’t have to be physically present at the store for them to shop. Augmented reality is used to render data and other digital images onto real-world objects. This is done through the use of text, audio, graphics, and other virtual elements. As such, customers can have real-world experiences in a virtual environment.
Augmented reality has been widely used to create unique shopping experiences, and statistics show that an estimated 100 million consumers have used augmented reality for shopping in 2020. The pandemic has forced brands to reevaluate their strategies to embrace augmented realities like virtual fitting rooms.
While customers might return to physical stores, they are feeling less confident about interacting and purchasing products that other customers have come into contact with. Customers can now interact with products online before they purchase as retailers are now rapidly using approaches like “try-before-you-buy” to enhance the shopping experiences for their customers. From virtually fitting clothes to help determine how makeup products will look after application, these are but a few of the advantages of augmented reality.
The iPhone 12 has been used widely in augmented reality. In fact, Apple launched a scanner feature known as LIDAR to boost augmented shopping experiences for their customers. This allows customers to execute different tasks at the same time.
Mobile devices have also been used to enable contactless shopping experiences. Near-field communication (NFC) technology is used to enable data exchange between devices through a form of short-range wireless technology. While it has been a trend in the past, its use has also been accelerated by chip-and-PIN card backing.
POS terminals that use tap-to-pay transactions are examples of contactless forms of payments. 27% of small businesses in America as shown by Raconteur statistics use tap-to-pay transactions as compared to other payment methods. The use of NFC has escalated among businesses in order to limit physical contact as part of the regulations set to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Businesses are using contactless NFC payment options and have reduced cash handling or insertion of credit cards replacing them with wearable devices like watches and chip-enabled PIN cards at different POS terminals. These devices are designed to capture important financial details about customers.
Voice-assisted technologies are used to boost e-commerce and retail sales. These are also known as voice commerce where customers can use voice commands instead of typing to complete search queries and find products they need online.
Smart applications such as Microsoft Cortana, Siri, Bixby, Alexa, and Google Home Assistant have eliminated the need to open screen-based apps and use voice assistants. These applications are designed to use voice recognition to understand and react to your speech. In fact, NPR and Edison did a survey that revealed that 60 million individuals possess smart speakers in their homes.
Walmart has applied voice recognition to enable voice commerce in its stores. This new addition known as the Walmart Voice Ordering Service allows its customers to make orders via voice commands by using Siri and Google Assistant-powered platforms and devices. Deliveries are made depending on the specified method by the buyer.
Voice commerce is always growing and becoming one of the ways brands can boost shopping experiences for their customers.
Retailers offering home delivery services have significantly grown because of the current situation, and customers are continuing to support such businesses.
BOPIS is an abbreviation for “buy online, pick in-store” where customers can complete orders online and pick their items in the store with no contact. Once a customer opts-in for a contactless delivery method, they can pick up their order in a secluded section then get an order notification on their phones.
By using BOPIS, retailers and consumers can connect with a virtual network of professionals and improve the contactless shopping experience. While the pandemic has resulted in a lot of closed storefronts, businesses can use them as distribution centers to meet the high delivery demand. Businesses able to offer such services are likely to grow immensely since this trend is expected to continue in the future.
Even though self-service kiosks were popular before coronavirus, the use has skyrocketed post-pandemic as they limit interactions between store attendants and customers. Automated self-service checkouts are not only an effective contactless solution but also a safe way of ensuring money handling.
Before the pandemic, they were used more for convenience but now they are being used as essential technology. Big brands and retailers using self-service checkouts have gained considerable success. And while they are primarily used for security and cost-saving purposes, they help prevent interactions between staff and the exchange of cash which is likely contaminated.
Adding Value to In-store Experiences
In the middle of the world-wide coronavirus pandemic, in-store shopping experiences matter a lot, if not more than before. Retailers need to adjust, whether it is adding a touch of virtual and augmented reality or treating their customers in special ways via futuristic technology. It boils down to the kind of experience customers get, which should be different than what they were already used to.
While social distancing is important, customers need to be engaged when waiting in line to be served. Considering the risk of safety in visiting physical stores with the pandemic, customers need something extra and out of the norm to keep them engaged while in the store and for them to become repeat customers. Strategic technological investments are, therefore, an important factor for driving topline sales for businesses.
Brands can also use creative approaches in order to influence the buying decisions of their customers. There are numerous ways to make in-store shopping for customers fun and adventurous even with the many limitations brought about by the pandemic. Surprising shoppers with new shopping experiences, and simply showing customers that you are constantly thinking about them.
Merging Physical and Digital
Another way to add value to in-store experiences is to merge physical and digital approaches in order to meet customers where they are. With more people feeling anxious about their health, the old physical shopping methods are far from what would be termed a good shopping experience in the current situation. An augmented reality shopping experience, when compared to online shopping is interactive and more close to an actual shopping experience without having to go to the retail store.
Retailers are continuing to adapt better strategies, and lessons learned online can still be added to the physical approaches. More than ever, it will be important to merge physical and digital as augmented and virtual online experiences are being utilized to help transport customers to business physical locations.
Normal customer shopping patterns have now changed while demand patterns have shot over the ceiling. Digital-enabled experiences continue to increase, and companies are acting to fit present customer needs in the most effective and safest ways.
Customers are now confined in their homes, which has propelled brands to deliver digitally for them to maintain the continuity of services. Companies have also gone digital to increase their audience reach while maintaining their existing ones by offering special digital services. Merging the two is a clever way for brands to deliver superior experiences to their customers and maintain strong connections post the pandemic.
Brands Doing it Right
Some brands are already setting the pace for contactless shopping experiences. By employing the different technologies that enable it, brands have been able to flourish in the midst of the pandemic. From freestyle beverage dispensers to no-touch checkout systems, brands are quickly catching up. That said, here are a few brands that are already doing it right.
Showfield launched Magic Wand, an app that gives its customers a contactless shopping experience inside the stores. By using Magic Wand, customers don’t have to touch anything they interact with in-store; rather, they can use the app to point at items and get detailed information about products and add them to virtual carts before picking up at specific points within the store.
From March to July, Pizza Hut was able to deliver more than 16 million no-touch pizzas. No-touch delivery has given birth to ghost kitchens, where food outlets make food for delivery options only.
In 2012, Uniqlo introduced the Magic Mirror, which was a first of its kind. Other apparel brands are launching similar technologies for their customers to try on clothes in front of the Magic Mirror and change colors and designs as they wish via an app.
Walmart also introduced a buy-online-pickup-in-store option to reduce human contact in its stores. Customers are directed to different grocery pickup areas through visible signages within the store.
COVID-19 has also caused the emergence of contactless fueling. Shell launched an app for its customers to pay for fuel without having to leave their cars. Customers can not only pay via mobile wallet but also input a code to select a preferred pump before filling up.
Converse launched an app for customers to fit trainers and make orders in the comfort of their homes. To try out their products, customers only need to point the app to their feet.
Time to Reimagine Brick-and-Mortar Strategies
Brick-and-mortar strategies might not work effectively for businesses as before, it is necessary to restructure. A lot of stores have closed down while others are making more losses than profits, but through different technological tools, brands can enhance omnichannel sales and other networks. Buy online, pickup in-store, which is one of the popular omnichannel fulfillment options is gradually increasing. In addition to redesigning structures, it is equally profitable to scrutinize dynamics cutting across different digital channels and the importance of physical locations.
As opposed to having single purchase options, stores are now shifting gears to adopt approaches that encourage customers to purchase across multiple channels. For businesses to successfully wade through challenges caused by the pandemic, they will need to make necessary adjustments in order to meet the current customer needs while offering the perfect shopping experiences.