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Retail in a touchless world

Tanvee Rathi • December 17, 2021
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If there is a bright side to the pandemic for the retail industry, it’s that within a few months, the biggest retailers forged ahead of their digital plan the equivalent of several years. Not since Amazon’s arrival 27 years ago had the industry seen such a whirl.

The retail industry has seen a rapid increase in the rate of digital shopping in comparison to in-store shopping. Overall sales figures were significantly down in discretionary segments such as department store chains and apparel, but enterprise sales grew at a decent rate for essential commodities due to stay-at-home mandates. There has been a surge in digital sales among the market leaders. For example, according to the Q2 earnings report, Macy’s and Kohl’s grew their digital business by 53% and 58% respectively year-on-year.

The boost we witnessed in digital transactions due to Covid 19 is gradually changing the way people shop. We can easily say that the pandemic increased digital commerce manyfold.

The challenge the industry is now facing is to sustain the digital momentum by amplifying the online efforts along with an experiential in-store shopping experience. This dual mandate will keep retailers poised for success in the post-pandemic world.

Gen-Z is taking the popularity of online shopping among millennials a step further. The surge in digital momentum has seen a rise in experiential shopping with Google shops and social media, and consumers who have adopted this behavior are likely to stick with it in the long run. It is important that we understand touchless commerce before we deep dive into the details.

What is Touchless Commerce?

“In its simplest form, touchless commerce can be defined as negligent to zero human intervention across the end-to-end customer value chain.”

Touchless Commerce is More Than Mere Online Shopping.

It is not justified to sum up touchless commerce as just online shopping facilities. In truth, it goes beyond that, including automated shipping facilities, AI-based product recommendations, self-checkout points, drop-off, and pickup stations, digital payment options, surreal try-outs, contactless delivery, etc. to minimize human contact. The post-pandemic world is opting for touchless retail not only as a safety measure but also as a convenience.

Why Touchless Commerce is the Future of Shopping?

1. Adapting to the Next Normal

Shoppers are more aware of safety nowadays, and they will look for options that ardently follow all the hygiene measures.

Online shopping has become popular, people with significant in-store buying inclination will always be there, wanting to utilize touchless technology via contactless access points. 

2. Creative Solution Offerings and Convenience

Touchless payment modes accelerate the purchase process, hence boosting subscription commerce in an efficient way.

Curbside pickups and doorstep deliveries are the new shopping preferences that are here to stay.

3. Futuristic In-Store Experience

‘Unmanned’ store is the new trend, and technology has helped speed things up. With the increasing use of smartphones and other digital devices, Voice search in eCommerce can assist in suitable product recommendations, and that is where touchless shopping again comes into the picture.

4. Reimagined Merchandising

In a period where consumer expectations, technology, and data availability multiply at exponential rates, it’s time to adopt a new model. 

Being successful today requires relevant skillsets and collaboration with ecosystem partners for an integrated marketplace.

Frictionless commerce benefits both retailers and consumers in many other ways. Digital transformation is the future, and so is contactless business.

How Can We Enable Touchless Commerce?

As mentioned above, there is more to touchless commerce than just online shopping. Here are some solution offerings that can enable it:  

· Virtual product and merchandise displays

· Surreal try-outs

· Automated inventory management and supply chains

· Personalization and AI tools for better CX

· Tech algorithms for enhanced UI and UX

· Omnichannel marketing for 360° promotions

· Digital payment gateways

· Contactless delivery (e.g., drones)

· Pickup and drop-off points for touchless and agile delivery

· Auto-generated return and exchange receipts

· Reward and loyalty programs based on past purchases

There are still points that we can consider in touchless retail. But, in their majority, contactless product display, purchase, payment, and delivery models are the few widely accepted and implemented areas.

Business Use Cases – Brands that are Currently Embracing Touchless Commerce

Macy’s partnership with Klarna puts a digital spin on the paying process by letting online shoppers pay for purchases in installments. After launching curbside pickup, Macy’s readied for the holiday season by introducing same-day delivery in partnership with DoorDash

In the convenience sector, 7-Eleven is redefining how customers shop for food and snacks. In April, during the lockdown in the USA, the chain offered free contactless delivery with its 7Now delivery app. 

Salvatore Ferragamo, an Italian luxury goods company, is leveraging the power of mixed reality to allow consumers to customize its shoe collection either in-store or online. 

Decathlon has built an AI-based personalization and recommendation engine which looks at the customer’s interest, sport preference, past browsing history, and past purchases.

Hence, we notice many retailers are revamping their business models to adapt to evolving market trends with contactless customer experience being the focal point of their digital strategies today.

Long-term retail winners will be those that embrace the changes and invest in building or acquiring relevant capabilities to deliver experiential retail. And, with the onset of the pandemic and beyond, touchless retail might just become the new way to shop and pave the path for the entire world.

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