Since the beginning of shopping time, retailers have continually admonished shoppers to “look, don’t touch.” In the age of COVID, consumers are now actively avoiding unnecessary touching goods in stores themselves.
But, Laura Heller, editorial content and communications director for Publicis Health Media and moderator of the CES 2021 “Future of Contactless Shopping conference,” noted that the acceleration of contactless shopping isn’t new or a reaction to COVID. “Contactless shopping has been trending for several years. These types of solutions are being embraced by retailers across the board, and mobile technologies are making contactless experiences for a time when contact can be dangerous, but they also promise for the time that comes next.”
It’s not only retailers that are metaphorically embracing contactless shopping technology. According to panelist Mary Kay Bowman, Visa’s global head of buyer and seller solutions, 78% of customers have changed how they pay as a result of COVID, and nearly two-thirds of customers said they’d switch to a store that offered contactless payments. “It is definitely on the customer’s mind,” Bowman observed, “and, therefore, it’s definitely on our minds.”
Late last year Visa launched Tap to Phone, which transforms Android smartphones or tablets into contactless, or tap-to-pay, software-based point of sale (softPOS) terminals without additional hardware. Tap To Pay is now live in 15 countries, and Bowman announced it would be coming the U.S. sometime this year.
Visa, along with MasterCard, American Express and Discover, is partnering with MagicCube, which provides a TEE (trusted execution environment) security platform for POS mobile wallet transactions for any retailer of any size on nearly any device. Late last year the MagicCube launched i-Accept, a software-based replacement for traditional terminals, which allows acquiring banks and financial services providers to offer merchants contactless and PIN payment acceptance through Android devices. The change, said MagicCube CEO and co-founder Sam Shawki, “is very similar to Netflix shifting from DVD. I think it’s going to open the economy at a big way because today there’s probably 6 billion cards and only 16,000,000 acceptance devices.”
Contactless payment, of course, is merely the tail-end of physical transaction. Standard Cognition is creating autonomous checkout for brick and mortar retailers via its AI-powered computer vision platform, which uses overhead cameras rather than shelf sensors that “allows people to walk in and grab something, and walk out and just be charged,” explained Standard Cognition COO Michael Suswal. Suswal demonstrated via a video from a Standard store at the University of Houston that he could run in and buy something in just 2.5 seconds.
Peter Peng, founder and CEO of Jetson AI insists voice is the most effective touchless shopping method. “We believe voice is more natural,” stresses Peng, who noted that voice shopping is expected to reach 40 billion dollars in the U.S. by 2022. “Voice is actually three times faster than any touch mobile interaction. People are more cognizant of screen time, so voice is definitely the new wave of where the next generation consumer is going to spend their time.”