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The Future of Hi-Tech Touchless Shopping Has Arrived

A brave new retail world

The maxim goes: necessity is the mother of invention. In the pandemic-stricken world of COVID-19, customers want fewer surfaces to touch during their point of sale (POS) process, and they don’t want to wait in a long line, even if socially distancing, to finally interact with a checker, tally up their purchases, make a payment, and leave with their goods. While many retailers have instituted new policies around safe, secure, and “clean” card readers and terminals, consumers still have concerns about touchpoints in a store.

Today, consumers want convenient and straightforward contactless payments such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Google Wallet. They still stand in line to use any of these, but they can avoid checkers and touches by taping the payment card near a POS terminal equipped with the technology. These types of payments provide a more convenient method to purchase an item since they don’t require consumers to input their PINs. Moreover, they add a safety layer by limiting the touches between a consumer and business to make a purchase.

But the future of POS—which is actually available today—will be even faster, more convenient, and reliable. It entails a digital shop-and-go POS model with no lines or checkout. Businesses can deploy a mobile checkout solution that allows their patrons to automatically scan an item and walk out of the store with their purchase using a simple app. No lines. No scanners. No manual card entry. They completely bypass the checkout counter after they find the product they want to purchase. It’s the innovation read in stories and seen in movies for decades, available now with the right scan-and-go technology.

The digital future today

Contactless scan-and-go solutions that provide simple, automatic checkouts are the next evolution of a trend that has been in the works for some time. Conventional POS solutions used by retailers of every kind, from supermarkets to department and discount stores, traditionally require more staff, are expensive, and provide a poor customer experience due to long lines and limited payment options.

Think about it—does anyone like going through a checkout line?

In recent years, companies have deployed self-checkout aisles, which solve a few problems, such as less labor, but require a significant investment up front in the POS systems. And they still supply a less than ideal customer experience in terms of still waiting in line for a checkout bin, putting each item through a scanner, placing it in a bag, waiting for a print or email receipt, and then walking out of the store. This is why they have generally suffered low adoption.

Newer POS solutions involve kiosks where people can manually enter information in-store (or even online) then pick up their items when they are ready at a designated location. For most, that seems like the best they can do at the moment.

But the future of POS involves a bolder, more convenient touchless system based on mobile apps, mobile payments, and computer vision technology. It leverages feature extraction functionality to identify the right customer associated with the account and the right product selected from the shelf. Consumers can walk the aisle, scan products as they shop, then automatically pay as they finish and exit with no hassle of waiting in lines. This is enabled through existing technologies from high-powered, robust cameras, mobile payment systems, computer vision technologies, and simple AI. Just imagine, with the help of facial recognition technology, if your face was your membership ID.

The impact of COVID-19

For years, checkout and payment have been friction points for consumers because of the inherent shopping delays from standing in line for a manual checkout process. COVID-19 has created the perfect inflection point in adopting contactless payments because it has set a new level of consumer expectation based on safety concerns as well as a desire for a faster, more convenient, and hassle-free experience. As the growing desire to minimize human contact leads to increased touchless fulfillment models, consumers’ mobile devices have become the primary portal for ordering, payments, and updates.

But buyers have more reasons to download a retailer’s app to reduce contact because the benefits extend well past the “hyper-hygiene” value proposition. At its core, contactless methods provide value through a transcendent shopping experience for the customer.

And it provides rich returns for the business. Companies can redirect resources in any number of ways—from personalized in-store customer service to sales, marketing, and operations. Stores don’t have to worry about scheduling extra staff at peak sales windows, only to try and find work they can do when unpredicted dips occur.

As more businesses employ touchless POS, the consumer demand grows exponentially. This is why several companies have entered the fray. Amazon Go stores use “Just Walk Out” technology to automatically track what shoppers take off the shelves in a virtual cart and charge their account when they leave the store. Walmart, Sam’s Club, 7-Eleven, Dollar General, Kroger’s King Soopers, and Giant Eagle grocery stores have all launched pilot shop-and-go shopping programs. Disneyland launched a merchandise mobile checkout system that expands on the mobile ordering system making purchases at restaurants and food stands. And what’s exciting is that this technology is a lot closer and accessible than most people realize.

A better checkout experience

Businesses can employ relatively inexpensive mobile technology, combined with facial recognition video-based software, connected to retail computers and scanners to make in-store customer experiences more convenient than ever.

For the retailer, the state-of-the-art experience can look like this. In addition to your regular marketing outside the store, you can post signs throughout your store to promote the new mobile checkout system using a mobile app or scanning a QR code. Your shoppers can open their smartphone (or any mobile device) to download the app directly.

Once the app opens, the customer can tap a button to begin the process. Shoppers grab a mobile checkout shopping bag located in the app and scan the products they plan to purchase; as they add each item to the virtual bag, they use a scanner that opens a camera window on the smartphone.

When the customer is done shopping, they select the app’s checkout feature to automatically pay for their scanned items using a credit card connected to the app. They can show their payment QR code to an employee at a designated mobile checkout exit in the store.

This next-generation of POS offers a far more direct, easy, and convenient shopping experience for customers. In addition to touchless shopping, these robust solutions help keep track of sales and customer orders; manage promotions, discounts, and loyalty programs; generate invoices; and much more.

This type of integrated services can be done because your POS solution seamlessly connects to other systems, networks, and databases to improve your business performance. As soon as a purchase is made, data links to accounting, warehouse and inventory tracking, customer support, field services in real-time using secure protocols.

Leverage the future today with OSI

OSI is watching this fast-growing new shopping experience technology closely and is already working with clients to explore how far this can go. OSI understands that customer experience is the most critical part of growing and retaining loyal business, and it drives the fast and focused business development in this area.

The future of contactless payment has arrived, and OSI is here to help. Thanks in part to the 2020 global pandemic, businesses that want to remain relevant and exceed consumer expectations can count on OSI to implement inventive digital shop-and-go solutions. This type of contactless point of sale is built using a combination of relatively inexpensive technologies to ensure contactless payment that maximizes customer speed and convenience.

Greg Mader is the founder and president of Open Source Integrators (OSI), a global leader in open source business consulting and IT services. He’s an Army Veteran and entrepreneur, adept at managing large teams and complex projects, delivered on time and budget. His background includes leading and developing large and small teams, with a focus on communication, mission relevance, and improved deliveries. His expertise spans across strategic planning, project management, ERP, GIS, and other enterprise technologies.

About the author:

Greg Mader is the founder and president of Open Source Integrators (OSI), a global leader in open source business consulting and IT services. He’s an Army Veteran and entrepreneur, adept at managing large teams and complex projects, delivered on time and budget. His background includes leading and developing large and small teams, with a focus on communication, mission relevance, and improved deliveries. His expertise spans across strategic planning, project management, ERP, GIS, and other enterprise technologies.

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