Touchless Retail Experiences – The New Normal

June 06, 2020

Touchless retail experiences – The new normal

Like any crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic is a catalyst for change. While we have seen traditional stores suffering from lock-down situations, e-commerce is thriving for primarily store-based retailers as it is for their online competitors. Yet COVID-19 doesn’t only add to shuffling the deck between retail channels – it will contribute to a fundamental shift in consumer behavior. For Francisco Melo, vice president and general manager, Avery Dennison Smartrac, it’s clear that retail as we know it will need to further innovate and ‘touchless’ retail concepts will help brick and mortar stores not only defend their territory but to shape the future of retail.

By Francisco Melo, Francisco Melo, Vice President and General Manager, Avery Dennison Smartrac

Food and other daily-use products are and will continue to be a stronghold for brick and mortar stores, and so are items that consumers like to treat themselves to such as beauty and apparel products. However, faced with a global pandemic reality, consumers might acquire a more ‘distanced’ attitude towards traditional, personal store-floor interactions. They are likely to be more hygiene conscious than ever before, with concerns about what products and materials have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus or other germs.

Hygiene awareness increasing? Touchless is the answer!
Increased demand, product shortages, minimal time to stocktake and the added need for social distancing have really put the pressure on grocery stores and retailers alike worldwide. Coupled with the issue of contamination and reducing the amount of ‘hands’ touching products is raising alarm bells for what the ‘new normal’ retail concept will look like. There is also a shift in consumer expectation for stores to provide solutions for unmanned stores, no-touch deliveries and ‘scan and go’ cashless self-checkout – introducing a new concept of truly ‘touchless retail’. Within that concept, technology is changing the retail game, not just for technology’s sake, but for everyone’s sake.

What's exciting is that ‘touchless technology’ does not have to impair the overall retail experience – it could in fact enhance it whilst ensuring that social distancing rules are adhered to.

Esselunga leads the way to tomorrow’s touchless retail experiences…
Being one of the largest and certainly most innovative grocery retailers in Italy, Esselunga has made extensive use of RFID technology within its newly opened Milan store. Originally established to provide a new type of retail experience, La Esse store was conceived as a technology showcase, where all products are tagged with RFID and customers can check out directly from their mobiles. Eliminating social contact between employees and customers, the store opened in December 2019 and continues to serve the public during the outbreak with very positive feedback.

…while Mishipay provides contactless payment to match
In Esselunga’s store as well as in similar locations around the globe, retailers are facing the need to innovate cashless and contactless payment solutions as part of their future-oriented frictionless shopping concepts. Another remarkable solution comes from Mishipay, a London-based tech company, and a partner of ours, that has built a mobile 'scan and go' self-checkout technology that facilitates immediate and contactless purchasing and potentially puts an end to queuing to pay. It’s no secret that food, fashion and beauty stores are often prone to queueing, which ultimately leads to a higher chance of transmission. Scan and Go offers an alternative by providing customers their own means to scan specific barcode or QR code labels and pay for their items from anywhere in the store, leveraging the power of their mobile phone. Coupled with the unique ID and ‘digital twin’ of an RFID tag, the retailer also reaps the benefits of complete item-level visibility and Electronic Anti-Theft Systems (EAS) to minimize losses.

Touchless yet enticing
What’s exciting is that ‘touchless technology’ does not have to impair the overall retail experience – it could in fact enhance it whilst ensuring that social distancing rules are adhered to. Imagine a retail experience where you can always find what you are looking for, where and when you want it and have the opportunity to interact digitally to receive personalised content, checkout through your mobile and even virtually try on clothes. With hygiene conscious consumers, retailers will be pushed to ‘think outside the box’ and offer new ways to interact with products. Take beauty products for example – imagine if instead of applying the tester lipstick in-store before you make the purchase you could simply look into an augmented reality mirror and see the color digitally applied on your lips in real time? RFID based solutions create the foundation that can enable this and more. 

The future belongs to connected products…
If all of our products became enabled with a digital trigger such as QR code or NFC then it opens up the opportunity for the product to become a 1:1 connection between the brand and the consumer – where our smartphones become the portal to a digital word of unique experiences. We could get access to information on the products provenance, additional product suggestions and rewards – we could even reorder a new one when it has reached its end of life, without having to leave our homes!

…and touchless retail concepts
Even if the increasing demand for – in the full sense of the word – touchless retail experiences is currently driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is every indication that highly automated stores with self-service ordering, self-checkout, and grab-and-go technology will establish themselves in the retail landscape of the future.

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