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Top Tech Empowering Retailers in Our Contactless World
March 17, 2022
Growing up, as kids we might have been taught to “look, don’t touch” in stores. These cautionary words seem uncannily prescient given COVID-19 and the variants over the past two years. It will be a long time, if ever, until people feel comfortable “touching” things again, which has rapidly accelerated the growth of contactless shopping experiences. Throughout the past two years, many consumers have turned to online shopping. However, consumers still desire the in-person element of shopping and are exploring it in new ways.
We continue to see an increase in click-and-collect services – which increased 106% in less than a year – and contactless payments, which increased 150% in less than a year, as well as contactless delivery, virtual assistants, and augmented experiences in retailers' operations. Contactless stores and contactless experiences are helping consumers feel safe about heading back to retail. If we are living in a “shop but don’t touch,” world, what technologies should brands explore?
Here are retail technologies that are changing the way we live and shop in a contactless world.
App-Free Amplified Assistance
According to Motista, emotionally connected customers will spend 150% more annually compared to regular, satisfied customers. Research also shows that the majority of U.S. consumers are downloading zero apps per month, and 78% of US smartphone users will not download an app to continue a transaction (Source: Digital Information World). In addition to app fatigue, analysts estimate the cost of developing, deploying, and maintaining an app can run as high as $1,000,000 and it can take six months to a year or more to complete.
Merkle, dentsu’s customer experience management agency, is moving into this trend by creating retail innovations that bring customer joy with its ShopNXT™ suite of patent-pending contactless retail innovations – including Scan & Know and UnboxIt, which debuted at CES 2022 during the “Shop But Don’t Touch” panel hosted by Robin Raskin, Founder at Virtual Events Group.
Scan & Know
One of the latest additions to the ShopNXT suite of products includes Scan & Know, app-free amplified assistance empowering shoppers to know more in store. Using their own mobile device, shoppers can scan any in-store item to learn more about the product details and price, add items to their wish lists and registry, or have products shipped to their door. Scan & Know’s patent-pending product recognition technology seamlessly integrates into a retailer’s existing websites, customer profiles, and loyalty programs, and a test can launch in weeks.
How can retailers continue keeping shoppers connected upon delivery? Merkle’s ShopNXT suite of retail innovations also includes UnboxIt, a smart packaging, no-code content platform that instantly converts customers into advocates of their products right out of the box. Using their mobile device, shoppers scan a QR code from the package that they receive at their doorstep to connect to valuable online content to “get started” with product onboarding, “join the club” for exclusive loyalty perks, or “share the love” with community and customer support.
Research shows that there is a 40% rise in registrations from brands that make registration easy by using QR codes (uQR.me) and 62% of retailers that offer benefits within the first week see ROI within the first six months (Clarus 2021 Loyalty Industry Data Study).
8th Wall is on a mission to make augmented reality for everyone by equipping developers, agencies, and brands with tools to create web-based augmented reality. With the world’s largest augmented reality platform, 8th Wall's WebAR works across iOS and Android devices with an estimated reach of 3.5 billion smartphones worldwide – all with no app required to download.
As part of its PLAY NEW initiative, Nike is inviting customers to experience sports in new ways with the launch of an in-store augmented reality retail experience. Nike worked in collaboration with BRDG Studios to make the experience as seamless as possible for customers. To access the experience, in-store shoppers must find and scan the specially marked AR stickers. Once scanned, customers unlock one of five augmented reality mini-games and after completing, the user receives a medallion that is added to their collection. Once they collect all five medallions, they receive a “gift with experience” that includes a Nike sticker pack.
Empowering Augmented Experiences
Our world continues to be augmented, as Neilsen reported 51% of consumers are willing to use AR to assess products, particularly in “try before you buy” experiences. Ecommerce platform Shopify reported that “Merchants who add 3D content to their stores see a 94% conversion lift, on average.”
Perfect Corp. continues to empower retailers with a variety of ever-expanding AI and AR touch-free, hyper-realistic, virtual try-on experiences from the physical world with a glimpse into the futuristic immersive shopping experience.
Experiences include virtual makeovers, AI skin analysis technology, visual simulation, hands and wrist product try-ons, AR-powered tutorials, AI Face Analyzer with personalized product recommendations based on users’ unique facial features, virtual try-on for eyewear, nail polish virtual try-on, and beard color and beard style. According to Perfect Corp, “Estée Lauder’s first implementation of Perfect Corp.’s virtual try-on solutions offered customers the magic of being able to try ‘30 Lipstick Shades in 30 Seconds.’ Presently, lipstick aficionados can virtually try on every shade in Estée Lauder’s Pure Color Envy lipstick range with the brand’s Virtual Artist Tool.”
Threekit enables companies to enhance, manage, and distribute 3D, 2D, and augmented-reality product visuals for scale with 3D configuration, photorealistic virtual photography, and augmented reality all from a single design file. With Threekit, retailers render a visual once, use it anywhere, and build on their product portfolio over time.
In addition to having a suite of 2D and 3D tools, Threekit's recently launched NFT beta program will allow brands to create highly customized NFTs at scale using the Threekit platform. Product NFT’s aren’t some distant notion. With the Threekit platform, retail customers can configure, personalize, and customize products to their specifications and purchase a virtual NFT along with the physical product when they check out.
For brands that want to fully utilize the interaction of human and machine collaboration in powerful new ways, Soul Machines Digital People make it possible to achieve zero-touch, unparalleled brand experiences from retail to healthcare. Soul Machines’ Human OSTM Platform features a patented Digital Brain that drives its Autonomous Animation, making it possible to deliver the goodness of human and machine collaboration.
Soul Machines takes the best types of human conversations — engaging, warm, emotional connections — and combines them with revolutionary technology to create the most lifelike and dynamically interactive experiences.
What Can Brands Do?
- Evaluate the current customer experience. Where are the painpoints online, in-store, and upon arrival? Identify where and what type of new contactless retail innovations will help better connect and amplify services.
- Work with partners to establish a test-and-learn plan to experiment with new contactless technologies without making a big investment.
- Determine what success looks like and make incremental investments in those areas to create customer joy and ultimately drive growth.
For example, Merkle’s NXT Intelligence™ platform provides an outside-in perspective to companies focused on technology, innovation, and brand experience; NXT Future View uncovers megatrends that align with overall strategic goals and growth; NXT Innovation Scouting scouts the global startup community and curates potential collaboration opportunities; and NXT Brand Experience Review uncovers ways to optimize the consumer experience.
What does the future hold?
According to Robin Raskin, Founder of The Virtual Events Group (VEG ), “Besides being more hygienic and efficient, contactless experiences will remain a part of how we shop, even after the pandemic subsides. Consumers have a newfound comfort level with behaviors like bar codes, online shopping, tap to pay, curbside pickup, and more. Retailers are going to continue to use what they've seen customers enjoy.”
In addition to app-free amplified assistance, virtual try-ons, augmenting our world, and virtual human experiences, we will likely see more gesture-like touch-free experiences, the evolution of AR glasses, and more holographic experiences in the world around us. The impact of 5G will only accelerate these experiences.
While our contactless world looks a bit closer to sci-fi films that we may have watched just a couple of decades ago, it's definitely a time to seek out, test, learn, and experiment with today’s innovative technologies designed to empower retailers and shoppers for our contactless world.
About the Author
Val Vacante is the director of strategy, product innovation at global customer experience agency Merkle.