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Revealed: What great contactless retail looks like in 2021

Brick-and-mortar stores have historically been the home of strong customer relationships. But COVID-19 has changed this, transforming customer experience and making it tougher to build customer loyalty. Our research shows in-store and in-person interactions have been dramatically curtailed, with consumers searching for new, safer and more convenient ways to shop and engage.

Here’s how market-leading brands are adjusting to this new reality, pivoting their approaches to customer engagement, resulting in an explosion of contact-free interactions designed to reassure customers and build valuable loyalty.

Retail trend: Contactless payments

Selling point: Clean, fast, and touch-free – contactless payments cut risk and speed up checkout waiting times.

Contactless payments have come of age during the pandemic with a 40% increase in touch-free transactions during the first quarter of 2020. Mobile wallets, app payments, and NFC cards are among the most popular forms of touch-free retail transactions.

Who’s doing this well? In the UK, major financial institutions have also established contactless payment methods. Barclays’ “contactless cash” feature allows any customer with an account to simply tap their card on an ATM’s reader to withdraw cash. Smartphones are also compatible. Walmart is among those leading the way in the US, where customers simply scan a QR code to complete their purchase using the Walmart Pay app.

Final word: Business Insider says contactless payments speed up transaction times from 45 seconds to 10 seconds while delivering a safer and simplified experience for consumers.

Retail trend: Contactless ordering, pick-up, and delivery

Selling point: The demand for contactless ordering, pick-up, and delivery has exploded during the pandemic as risk-averse consumers switch to web-supported services.

Whenever brick-and-mortar stores closed during lockdown a surge in online shopping followed, and Forrester predicts eCommerce growth will continue. For example, curbside orders increased by 208% during the first three weeks of April 2020, while 32% of UK shoppers also increased their online grocery orders during lockdown.

Who is doing this well? Retailers can look to the hospitality sector for contactless ordering/delivery innovation. Customers of UK delivery service Deliveroo can now order a meal through the firm’s app and opt for their food to be dropped at their doorstep, rather than handed off. In the US, Dunkin' delivers a first-rate contactless loyalty offering. The brand promotes contactless ordering in its ads, with a CTA to download their app and join their loyalty programme. Once customers have downloaded the app, they can choose to continue signing up for the rewards programme or order as a guest.

Final word: Brands like Deliveroo and Dunkin’ that are focused on creating safe and easy ordering and pick-up processes are seeing increased short-term orders and long-term trust.

Retail trend: Contactless communications

Selling point: Conversational AI helps beat the service-centre backlog, giving consumers immediate responses even when human customer service agents are swamped.

Call centres and websites have become primary communications channels as shoppers routinely avoid stores. This has increased both service centre traffic and waiting times as retailers struggle to meet customer demand and protect brand loyalty. Faced with this challenge retailers are turning to conversational AI to transform their chatbots and virtual assistants. This technology helps to answer common questions and provide complex product details, without errors or a time lag.

Who is doing this well? Travel website Kayak offers retailers a masterclass in conversational AI. The Kayak chatbot can help travelers find flight prices in specific time frames, provide direct links to finalise booking and payment, and offer recommendations based on the customer’s preferences and budget. Final word: More than half (56%) of consumers would rather message a customer service platform than call one. The time is right for retailers to invest in conversational AI, a solution that is always-on and delivers what customers want without delay.

Retail Trend: Location-based accessibility

Selling point: Location adds increased relevance to your marketing messages providing an opportunity to reach consumers where they are.

Google recently rolled out the capability to directly message brands through Google Maps and Search when shoppers research specific locations. This opens up new a channel for brands with Business Messages, a mobile conversational channel that combines entry points on Google Maps, Search and brand websites.

Who is doing this well? A growing number of retailers in the US have already adopted this communication method, including Woolworths and Walmart. Woolworths lets customers search for products and see their availability at local stores. The brand also uses Business Messages to share COVID-19 updates.

Final word: Google says: “Messaging has become such a valuable way to connect with customers that twice as many businesses are messaging via Google now, compared to last year.”

Contactless excellence in a nutshell

Innovation is key to contactless loyalty. Retailers should consider new ways to showroom larger products online and fast-track the in-store checkout experience. They should also develop and promote contactless ordering and pickup channels, especially since customers are already adopting these behaviours. With contactless handoff, all touchpoints should be considered—from ordering online to delivery or pickup. All technology should be seamless, easy to use, and clearly communicated with customers. Retailers who can integrate these new techniques, and meet their customers where they shop, will be best placed to grow loyalty in this new contactless environment.

Find out more in Epsilon Europe’s report, Contactless Loyalty, which gives more tips and advice on build lasting customer affinity in an increasingly contactless world.