Retailers are adapting to the new, unpredictable normal, with low-touch retail tech here to stay

With the latest lockdown restrictions now in place across Australia, and much of the world still dealing with outbreaks, most consumers are used to following social distancing, working from home, or masking up to reduce their risk of catching the virus. The need to shop for groceries, however, isn't going anywhere.    

Most supermarket retailers now offer a more hygienic and safer shopping environment as standard with plexiglass keeping cashiers safe, mask mandates, QR code check-ins and more. But to effectively reduce consumers' contact points and physical interaction in-store, retailers have turned to tech to help.    

The interesting thing is that many of the innovative changes accelerated by the restrictions in response to COVID are here to stay. These changes haven't just contributed to a safer shopping environment — shoppers like the changes and plan to keep using them for the added speed and convenience. Innovative AI Scales, frictionless checkout, the e-commerce explosion – all these and more have helped retailers respond to the challenge of a low touch shopping experience and have given customers what they wanted all along — a convenient way to shop. Here's how major retailers are adapting to the new normal permanently.  

The rising popularity of scan and go

A 2020 consumer study conducted by Multi-Channel Merchant found that "81% of consumers would prefer to use their device for in-store shopping".    

With scan-and-go and scan-and-pay apps, shoppers manage their shopping cart transactions entirely autonomously. They simply install the retailer's scan-and-go app on their smartphone. Then as they shop in-store, they use the app to scan their items, bag these items themselves, pay electronically on the app and walk out the door.  

Scan and go apps give consumers a similar experience to online shopping with the benefits of shopping in a physical store. But importantly, they remove the need for checkout lines so shoppers can avoid shared physical touchpoints at the checkout altogether. Interactions with staff are kept minimal, with no direct person to person contact required.    

While consumers were hesitant to use scan-and-go technology before the coronavirus outbreak, it appears to be having its day. Consumers have adjusted their shopping behaviour to achieve a more contactless shopping experience and avoid close human interaction and long checkout lines. The use of scan-and-go applications has as much as tripled in certain areas.    

An established grocer in New York City reports that about 10% of total transactions were performed via their scan-and-go application before the Coronavirus outbreak. During the pandemic, this number surged to 20% and in certain stores even to 30%.    

Samuel Mueller, chief executive of Scandit, said: "Contactless retail was already becoming a trend before the pandemic - now it's the new reality. Since COVID, some of our grocery customers have seen the number of mobile app-based Scan and Go transactions in their stores double or more.”  

Tiliter Retail's AI Scales work seamlessly with the retailers’ scanning apps, so shoppers can buy fresh produce with the same convenience as other supermarket products.

Our AI supermarket technology is easy to scale, so we expect to see increased shopper adoption as the tech becomes more familiar and customers see the benefits it provides besides a near touchless shop, such as avoiding long checkout lines and keeping track of their spend in-store.  

Shoppers are turning to self-checkout  

Self-checkout systems have taken off during the pandemic. Bloomberg reports that "87% of shoppers prefer to shop in stores with touchless or robust self-checkout options during COVID-19 pandemic."  

According to a report by Forrester. 97% of customers see long lines as a deterrent, and significantly, 65% of those shoppers would move to the self-checkout machines if lines at the checkout are too long.  

Raydiant found, in their 2021 State of Self-Checkout Experiences report, that 60% of respondents reported an increase in their use of self-checkout during the past year. In another survey from Shekel, 87% of those surveyed said they would prefer to shop in stores with touchless or self-checkout options.  

There are a couple of reasons for this swing — the ability to maintain social distancing by avoiding checkout lines altogether and the time savings and convenience offered by the self-checkout model.  

By implementing our product identification computer vision software at Point-of-Sale (POS) and Self-Service-Checkout (SCO) systems, retailers have another option to help customers shop COVIDSafe. The software speeds up the checkout process and minimises the number of times consumers need to touch the SCO display.

It also assists cashiers and consumers to check out fresh produce in less time preventing shoppers from standing side by side in long checkout lines.  

Our data shows that, compared to a well-experienced cashier that checks out consumers' shopping baskets at a conventional POS, cashiers that use a POS equipped with the Tiliter computer vision recognition system save on average 0.3s scanning each fresh produce item.

These time savings will shorten checkout lines and reduce shoppers' risk of being infected with the Coronavirus. It also allows cashiers to increase their throughput over a given period allowing supermarkets to react to staff shortages dynamically.  

E-commerce is here to stay

Online shopping isn't new. Consumers already love ordering groceries and other goods from the palm of their hand or the comfort of their home. But what started as a convenience-based choice built for the digital age rapidly became a necessity.    

March 2020 saw brick and mortar stores begin to close their doors or become inaccessible. Most temporarily. Some, unfortunately for longer. Shoppers, in many cases, had no option but to shop online for essentials. What happened was that online retailers with e-commerce channels in place or could quickly pivot saw a surge beyond the weekly shopping list and beyond the initial lockdown.  

Online marketplace traffic quickly soared above pre-pandemic levels. Take a look at this graph of e-commerce spend from McKinsey. The US saw a massive increase of 76.2% year-over-year increase by June 2020 — 10 years' growth in just three months.  

The surge in e-commerce isn't a here today, gone tomorrow scenario or just one more retail channel. It's part of how we shop today — and we like it.  

Click and collect  

Click and collect, buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) or simply pick up provides consumers with an online purchase experience with an in-person pick up at the retail store. Click and collect is not new, but as brick-and-mortar stores temporarily closed or introduced stringent in-store restrictions during the pandemic, this retail experience has grown in popularity. The Retail Consumer Preference Study showed that nearly one-third of shoppers used pick up during the 2016 holiday season in the US. That number was at 554% YOY in May 2020.  

Insider Intelligence estimates that US shoppers spent $72.46 billion on click-and-collect purchases in 2020, making up over 9% of all e-commerce sales. This year, that figure is expected to increase to $83.47 billion and just under 10%. A big jump that speaks to the consumers' ready adoption of, and adaptation to, the click and collect approach.  

Supermarkets have embraced click and collect, and it forms a solid part of the business model at stores across the world. It's fast and personalised and provides shoppers with peace of mind and an easy way to keep socially distant. Plus, it offers the speed and convenience digital-savvy buyers expect. We expect this one to stick around for good.

Unusual circumstances are accelerating change  

COVID-19 has left physical retailers going back and forth between strict restrictions to contain transmissions and back to the new normal, and in some cases, back again. Consumers are used to the disruption to their lives and what we're seeing is that some new habits are here to stay.    

Retailers have quickly adapted to these restrictions and evolved their offerings fast. New consumer behaviours that focus on hygiene, social distance and mask-wearing will help contain the virus and hopefully stay in business and stay competitive.    

The Tiliter Scan&Go Scale provides a low-touch shopping experience for fresh produce. The system uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to recognise items so shoppers can avoid touching the screen multiple times. Scan & go users scan the barcode to add their fresh produce items to their shopping cart, preventing the need to scan fresh produce at checkout and avoid the lines.  

If you want to offer your shopper an ongoing contactless shopping experience, we can help. Check out the latest supermarket vision solutions helping to keep your customers safe and offer a more convenient way to shop for good.