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Aptos Retail Innovation VP: Contactless is All About Transparency

Contactless has been one of the biggest buzzwords in 2020 as retailers adapted to new norms across store operations, delivery and even payments. But with the holiday season right around the corner, contactless tech will be an indispensable resource for retailers eager to attract shoppers back into stores.

“I think there’s a lot of concern over whether retailers can really execute on a holiday season at the level they need it to be given that they can’t have full stores, and there’s going to be a lot of limitations on how consumers can engage with them,” said Nikki Baird, vice president of retail innovation at retail technology company Aptos. “Contactless for sure continues to be something that they look at as a way of reassuring consumers that they’re safe to do business with, but it also helps them spread their capacity out so that they don’t have to run as many consumers through stores in order to hit their holiday goals.”

Above all else, implementing contactless solutions effectively and creating consumer confidence is going to hinge on the transparency of the initiatives at hand, according to Baird.

With so much variation in how each retailer approaches curbside pickup, last-mile delivery or in-store returns, and whether they carry out these processes themselves or with a third-party provider, shoppers might be confused about policies and procedures, which could derail their experience. For example, some consumers receiving a package delivery might be surprised to discover they can’t simply wait for the delivery person to leave before retrieving their parcel.

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“Where people really get annoyed is ‘I wanted it to be contactless, but if I have to go out and ask them what’s happening, or suddenly I have to sign for something that I didn’t expect,’ then as a consumer that creates dissatisfaction and I’ll feel cheated,” Baird said.

Baird believes consumer adoption of curbside pickup will remain high into the holiday season even amid the falling temperatures, but success boils down to capacity optimization. In the end, retailers must consider certain “tradeoffs” to support the success of the store.

“If you’re only going to let a certain number of people into your store and you’ve already got the business of somebody, it’s much better to send the employee out of the store to drop that off to the consumer who’d already purchased,” Baird said, “so you can make room in the store for one more person that has an intent to buy that hasn’t bought yet.”

Overall, malls, whose suffering began long before Covid-19, must figure out the contactless curbside scenario as the season kicks in, primarily because sluggish traffic has left them unprepared to manage the typical holiday crush.

Retailers and shopping centers implementing curbside must not just rely on that fulfillment option to generate extra revenue during the holiday season, even if certain consumers are still wary of shopping in store. In fact, they must find more ways to bridge the gap between curbside and the buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) offerings to capture the advantage that often comes with upselling and cross-selling. Some retailers said as many as 40 percent of store visits wouldn’t happen without BOPIS available, Baird noted.

“Retailers that are more sophisticated around BOPIS are thinking about how to insert something into that curbside process, even if the idea is bringing another item out to the curb and saying ‘You might like this too. Do you want to add this to your order? Because I can do it right here.’ Retailers are thinking about that kind of conversation so they can recapture some of what they’re losing by not having the consumer come in the store.”

Contactless also traditionally goes hand in hand with self-service checkout, as retailers offered point-of-sale experiences that don’t necessarily require the assistance of other human beings. But as cleaning requirements for self-checkout measures become more extreme, retailers may not want to sustain the self-checkout option as the primary contactless end point in a store.

Baird noted that some retailers are shifting from self-checkout to consumer mobile scan and go, which she describes as the “ultimate in self-service.” But long deployment lead times mean the technology might not be available at scale until Spring 2021 at the earliest.

“Embedding that in an experience that’s easy for the consumer to find, and then supporting that on how to integrate that into the retailer’s systems, provide all that inventory and pricing and promotions information, that’s hard,” Baird said. “I’m curious to see if once a vaccine is on the table whether retailers continue that investment in consumer mobile scan and go. There’s all kind of reasons why the technology may not make it in 2021, but there’s all this pressure that if you’re going to do self-service, consumer mobile scan and go is the best way to do it, because it is truly contactless, and it’s cheaper.”