The Coronavirus has changed the status quo in almost every facet of life. Most demonstrably, convenience stores, cafeterias, and supermarkets have undergone significant transformations to remain open throughout the pandemic.
Cashiers are now segregated behind plastic shields, stock personnel have protective gear on, and shoppers go about their selecting of items with a serious and hurried purpose versus the leisurely experience all took for granted before COVID-19. Shopping for goods, once the domain of luxury and relaxation, is now a fraught experience for many.
All in all, there is and will continue to be a fundamental remaking of retail operations. But the above current measures are merely stopgaps. The time has arrived to implement frictionless shopping solutions at convenience stores, cafeterias, and supermarkets for the benefit of customers and employees alike.
Although frictionless shopping has been possible for some time, many organizations have not had a compelling reason to invest, until now. The pandemic has illuminated the pitfalls where long established best methods are breaking down. According to Juniper Research, invisible payments were projected to process $78 billion in in-store retail transactions by 2022. And that was before COVID-19 struck. What was once a mere shopping convenience has now become a public safety necessity.
UST’s Walk-In Walk-Out frictionless solution streamlines a superior customer experience by removing the check-out line. The technology behind this solution is a seamless integration of artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, edge technology, and video cameras working together to enable the core features. Customers enter the store by scanning the QR code in the mobile app, selecting items, then walk out, receiving their digital receipt in a matter of seconds. The amazing part about it is that such sophisticated technology can be installed, up and running in only eight weeks.
Convenience stores and cafeterias operating on corporate campuses and universities now have a great opportunity to reinvent a new normal by improving the operational efficiencies such as inventory management and restocking. Thanks to analytics that gives managers visibility into what customers buy and how they move about the store, managers can optimize display and product mix to the way customers shop.
As counties and cities begin reopening across the US, it’s critical for many retail stores and food services to take extra precautions, but some of these investments will have better returns on investment. Giving people the freedom to walk in, shop and walk out will be something that will offer dividends for long after the clear plastic shields come down (whenever they do.)
Three areas where shoppers are rethinking their options
Standing in line: The combination of packed supermarkets and increased items per trip are creating unnecessary safety hazards.
Touchscreens and the person-to-person exchange of cash and cards: With today’s technology, there is no reason any customer and cashier should need to make contact with each other or touch any unnecessary surfaces.
Lengthy shopping experiences: Shops and restaurants providing food, beverages, and essential goods are the only places where people can congregate without maintaining 100% social distancing. Getting in and out quicker means less potential exposure and greater overall health protections for everyone.
While COVID-19 will eventually recede, habits around public safety and health will remain ingrained. The ongoing benefits of friction-less shopping will only increase for consumers in additional ways.
Happier shopping experience: Even once the pandemic passes, people will find it hard to go back to antiquated ways when they can get in and out of a shop in a fraction of the time. Contact-less shopping combines the convenience of online shopping with the ability to view items in person, truly producing the best of both worlds.
Convenience: Shoppers put up with long lines and individual items being scanned because that’s what they’re used to. Give them an alternative with virtually no lines, and they will take it. In fact, 74% of customers will shop at a competitor’s store to avoid lengthy checkout lines.
Elimination of mistakes: Everyone has had an experience where he or she was overcharged for multiple items or did not have a discount code applied, which sullies the reputation of the store. Advanced systems like contact-less shopping will ensure every item is counted correctly with the right promotion applied.
And the operators of these convenience stores quickly recoup the expense of installing contact-less systems through:
Loyalty: Especially during the pandemic, customers will patronize almost exclusively the stores that make them feel safe.
Profitability: Providing efficiencies through friction-less shopping will lead to more customers able to pass through the store (especially when local guidance is to limit the number of people in a shop), leading to higher revenues and profits.
Branding: Friction-less shopping is a competitive advantage for shops looking to stand above the competition. Seeing a contactless store in action through commercials or social media video is a great way to demonstrate your operation is the one customers should frequent.
Analytics: Advanced tracking systems provide real-time insights that can drive a more intelligent organization. Knowing which items need to be restocked and which ones are selected and returned without buying is one of many ways shops and cafeterias can know more about their customers and their products.
Exemplary customer service: Automation and technology do not render human workers redundant; in fact, it makes humans even more valuable - to help customers find what they want, engage in polite conversation, and provide smart and valuable customer service, etc.
Reduction in shrinkage: The ability to seamless track goods minimizes theft and nefarious actions. This will lead to improving the profit margin.
Out of every crisis comes an opportunity. And early adopters of UST’s Walk-In, Walk-Out shopping technology will find themselves looking back at 2020 and realizing that this was a pinnacle moment for their business future. This solution has so many more potential uses and we’re excited to see the innovative ways our clients will adopt this.
Mahesh Athalye is a Senior Director within the retail vertical at UST Global. As a business and go-to-market leader, he partners with clients to drive profitable business growth by implementing retail technology – including online, in-store IT, and AI/ML solutions. Mahesh has 27 years of experience in manufacturing, financial services, and the retail IT and security sector. Prior to joining UST Global, Mahesh was part of the leadership team of Xpanxion (a UST Global Company). He played a key role in the business growth at Infosys and was part of the delivery leadership at Syntel Inc. Mahesh is actively involved in community service, and is a Board member of the TAG FinTech Society and a volunteer at the Global Thrombosis Forum.