After a full year of pandemic living, it finally feels like we’re reaching the tail end of this life-altering situation. As the vaccination push continues, businesses are preparing for a return to normalcy—whatever that may look like in the post-COVID world.
On the retail front, brick-and-mortar stores can expect a gradual resurgence of in-store shopping. However, retailers must reckon with the reality that many of the adaptations that became popular during the last year are here to stay.
Retailers who acknowledge contactless shopping as the “new normal” will be best positioned to thrive in the months and years ahead. As experienced retail consultants working with some of the world’s top brands, we encourage all retailers to build contactless experiences into their future strategies.
In the world of contactless payments, Apple Pay is typically the first example that comes to mind. The pandemic has certainly accelerated the adoption of this technology, which allows customers to make payments via their smartphones without touching buttons or exchanging cash.
But the advantages of Apple Pay and other mobile wallets extend far beyond the pandemic, providing opportunities for:
- Increased security. Most major credit cards enable contactless payment, allowing consumers to simply tap their cards on the credit card terminal without entering their PIN. But this level of convenience can pose a significant risk: stolen credit cards are easier to use when purchases don’t require a PIN.
Mobile wallets have their own security risks, but ultimately it’s harder to steal a smartphone than a credit card. And before gaining access to a smartphone, numerical security codes and Face IDs are usually required, providing barriers to sensitive data.
- Personalized customer engagement. For retailers, the rise of contactless payments can enable stronger connections to their customers. Mobile wallets like Alipay and WeChat (both widely used in China) are connected to users’ social media accounts, giving retailers permission to engage with customers via these online platforms.
With some mobile wallet functionality, retailers have the opportunity to build more meaningful post-purchase experiences: reaching customers online to thank them for their business, following up with coupons, requesting reviews, and more.
Retailers need to have more sophisticated barcode readers installed and integrated into POS. All payment types need to be accepted in stores and online to enable true omnichannel (e.g. buy online, return in stores, or BORIS).
Yuansfer is a payment gateway that enables retailers to accept many types of QR-based digital wallets in stores and online. Having one provider for all channels allows retailers to credit refunds to the original payment tender. Social digital wallets also facilitate engagement. (More to come on this topic in future blog posts.) With Yuansfer, Asian shoppers are able to pay in their preferred tender. And new consumers installment payments, such as PayPal’s Pay in 4 and Alipay’s Credit Pay, are also supported.
Consumers have relied on curbside pickup during the past year to avoid exposure to crowds of people in stores. Experts predict that demand for this convenient alternative to long drive-through lines and expensive third-party delivery services will continue even as pre-pandemic life is restored.
While the consumer advantages of curbside pickup are clear, many retailers have yet to harness the potential of this offering. Curbside pickup offers savvy retailers better opportunities for:
- Personal interaction. Customers who place orders for curbside delivery provide their information up front, giving retailers better opportunities to make personal connections. Greet your customers by name to personalize the interaction and build brand loyalty.
- Customer information. Curbside pickup offers direct access to a customer’s purchase history, just as if they were an in-store shopper.
- Sampling. Offer samples of promotional items or partner with vendors who will pay you to provide samples to your customers. Offering samples adds value to customers while opening another revenue stream
- Rewards. Retailers may consider turning curbside pickup into a concierge-level service – offering it as part of an enticing set of perks to the best customers.
Curbside pickup is demanding because inventory information has to be accurate (same as for BOPIS). Curbside pickup also places additional demands on store personnel staffing.
Leading order management solutions from Aptos, Kibo, Manhattan Associates, and others add specific capability to typical BOPIS functionality to enable curbside pickup. Store associate workflow management facilitates internal processes and customer notifications enable completely contactless transactions.
Virtual Try Before You Buy
With innovative technologies like augmented reality, customers can enjoy the authentic, personalized experiences traditionally associated with in-store shopping from the comfort of their own homes.
Early adopters like Warby Parker and Ulta Beauty were ahead of the curve on augmented reality long before the pandemic, with in-app solutions for virtually trying on glasses or make-up products. Home decor brands like IKEA and Dulux have also found success with this technology, helping customers visualize how a sofa or a paint color will look inside their home.
This increasingly popular digital experience will undoubtedly have staying power in the post-COVID retail world.
Growth of eCommerce
eCommerce has continued its growth in recent years, with online retail sales skyrocketing 44% in 2020 as store traffic plummeted. Now, retailers are in a tough position, attempting to determine how consumer behaviors will (or will not) revert to store shopping as the country opens back up.
No matter what, retailers should use this time as a learning experience: further confirmation that they must prioritize agility and adapt to unexpected changes in consumer behavior.
If you need guidance or support implementing any of these innovative retail experiences, our team of experts can partner with you to execute cost-effective, high-performing strategies tailored to your business. Contact us today to learn more.