Across Europe, lockdowns are lifting, being reinstated and then lifted again in response to Covid-19 transmission rates and hospital admissions. With regulations different from town to town and week to week, it is unsurprising that the general public are apprehensive about what is safe and what is permitted. As lockdowns lift and shoppers return to the high street, retailers should be appreciative that there will be different levels of comfort around in-store interactions whether those interactions are with staff, other customers, keypads or screens. As businesses welcome back customers, they should look to the comfort of their clients - the levels of concern and confidence on the high street - and implement ways in which all customers can engage with their brand.
Online has become an important way for those unable or unwilling to venture into stores to shop but we know that there is definitely still an appetite to spend in bricks and mortar locations as evidenced in retail data showing spikes in spending when stores have been open. I may be biased, but I am confident that bricks and mortar will continue to be an essential part of the retail mix and that screens will have a key role in assuring shoppers and ensuring that their in-store experience is safe, convenient and enjoyable. Scala screens can be outfitted to be antimicrobial. Indeed, a retail touchscreen is likely to be a lot more hygienic than the screen on an average mobile phone. However, it is understandable people may be reluctant to touch a screen to place an order or enter a collection code, so retailers should look at and offer other forms of interaction. This doesn’t mean screens are redundant, I’d argue that they are more necessary than ever, but the way customers want to interact with screens has changed.
Capgemini research released May last year, suggests that globally, 77% of consumers expect to increase their use of touchless interactions during Covid-19. In the UK, the figure is 86%. Post Covid, the expectation of interacting through voice assistants, facial recognition and apps to avoid human interactions and touchscreens is still present, with 62% of global customers expecting to use more touchless tech.
With some nations operating a ‘check-in’ system to track Covid, shoppers are getting used to pulling out their phones when entering a shop or restaurant. Many restaurants have already implemented in-app ordering with a QR code at the table. There is no reason why this behaviour couldn’t be extended to in-store shopping. Using their phone and contactless payments, shoppers could scan QR codes printed on tags or display screens to a payment without queueing or touching a public keypad. Beyond payment, mobile and screen integration could mean clothing displayed on screen and then ‘ordered’ via a personal device to be placed into a changing room, minimising contact with shop staff and allowing changing rooms to be cleaned between use. For shops with larger items, such as furniture, customers could scan codes next to display items, with purchased items brought to a convenient pick up point for easy loading into the car.
So what about voice commands and screens? In the UK, 62% of consumers will expect voice activation on dedicated devices at shops, banks and government offices to avoid human interactions and touchscreens. Using our voice is not new for consumers: drive-throughs have used voice ordering for years and the rise of the smart speaker means that voice-activated technology in the home has become commonplace for many. Voice activation makes contactless technology more accessible for the general public as functionality isn’t dependent on the presence of an up-to-spec phone. Voice interaction could also be a massive boon in shopping areas that benefit from tourist traffic, if the technology allows for multiple languages.
I’m not a shy person but I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be speaking into a screen in a shop, especially while also wearing a mask. A better scenario, at least for me, would be for the shop that I enter to recognise me through an interaction with my phone (with appropriate permissions granted of course). The shop could then alert me to offers or products of interest. A screen in the changing room could, using the data from the items that I selected to try on, show me what might go with my items or how what I have picked might look with items I have bought before. This personalisation would encourage loyalty to a brand or shop as the business saves me some time and offers products in a convenient and safety-aware way.
Touchless will be an important part of shopping experience but to assume that one form of touchless tech will cover all consumers at all times is short-sighted. Comfort levels with different forms of interaction will change depending on what is happening in the news, how shoppers feel that day, the time that customers have, and the product that they are shopping for. Through offering a range of options for the consumer, businesses show that they value their customers, respect their individuality and appreciate their concerns. This is potentially a powerful way to build relationships as well as business both for the short and the long term.
Harry Horn is an ever-curious expert, keen to explore opportunities, share ideas and make technology benefit both business and individuals. In his decade at Scala, and now, as part of the STRATACACHE family of tech companies, Harry has seen the rise of online retail and the transformation of bricks and mortar retail spaces. An aficionado of integrated technology, Harry has a wealth of experience in applying dynamic digital solutions to transform business — from digital signs at scale to practical uses of AI, VR and AR in store. An advocate for giving customers the best experience as well as creating business efficiencies, Harry is a master of retail marketing, driven by a passion for customer insight and new technology.