Whether a cashless society excludes the underbanked has been debated for many years. But the pandemic introduced a specific set of conditions: while consumers still needed to shop in store for essential goods, they wanted to get in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. And that included how easily they could pay.
These needs have accelerated the adoption of touchless transactions, which allow shoppers to use cards or mobile devices to pay for goods with no money handling, no physical contact with payment machines. Even those who were previously reliant on cash for making small purchases have gotten used to paying by contactless card or digital wallet on their smart device.
Assuming that, once consumers have experienced the convenience and safety of touchless transactions, they are unlikely to reverse back into cash payments, it’s important for retailers to enable customers with the payment method of their preference. And this needs to happen across every channel, including in-store, online and via mobile app.
Drivers for change
Government social distancing and hygiene requirements have led retailers to include routine sanitization processes in their operations. But, in addition to the space and cleanliness, customers now expect the option for a touchless shopping experience.
This expectation requires retailers to provide multiple ways to research, purchase and consume goods through a convenient, contact-free interaction within a hygienic physical environment. It also requires a contactless payment option. What’s more, customers are only fully satisfied when they feel the retailer has taken the time to understand their needs, so retailers must provide touchless capabilities across all major customer processes while providing a level of personalization.
Touchless interactions include every point throughout the typical customer journey: search, transact, acquire and consume. They can also include safe and hygienic courier deliveries, in-store and curb-side pickups, as well as virtual try-before-you-buy services.
The recent trend for brands like Amazon to open checkout-free stores takes touchless transactions into new territory, with shoppers’ accounts charged as they leave the store, shaving even more time off the in-store purchase.
Beyond the benefits for consumers, touchless transactions provide clear advantages for retailers too. Not only can they gain advantages from moving queues and transactions through their operations more quickly than when processing cash or chip and PIN cards, but they can also capture data about customers’ spending preferences that will lead to valuable insights and the prospect of delivering a personalized service and loyalty program.
Delivering real-life business outcomes
Ulta Beauty is one example of a US retailer that’s capitalized on the opportunity the pandemic presented to expand personalized touchless interactions. In addition to offering salon services, the beauty retailer sells both mass and prestige cosmetics, fragrances, skin care and hair care products. It offers a range of more than 25,000 products via 1,250 stores and at ulta.com.
Following the lockdown, Ulta Beauty expanded its buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) and buy online, pickup curbside (BOPAC) services, which include a new notification process for a seamless digital experience. It also added new virtual try-on capabilities. Through its GLAMlab app, users can test hair color, eyebrow tools and false eyelashes. The Ulta Beauty app also offers a new skin analysis tool that uses augmented reality (AR) to assess needs and make personalized recommendations.
Ulta Beauty intensified its use of AI and loyalty data insights to expand its ability to provide members with unique recommendations for new products, goods based on category preferences, reminders for replenishment or hand-picked items.
It then launched app-only offers and other exclusives to drive member engagement. This included a new service booking tool that enables shoppers to easily book or reschedule salon, brow and other service appointments.
Ulta Beauty launched a customer service chatbot on its website to improve the convenience and speed of resolving basic customer queries. Also, its new guest service customer engagement platform allows its call center to respond to customer service needs across a variety of contact channels and internal platforms.
The company’s investment in new capabilities to enable touchless transactions across multiple dimensions has paid significant dividends. It achieved record high e-commerce growth of 200% in 2020, with a fifth of that attributed to BOPIS and BOPAC services. Product views within GLAMlab jumped more than 150% in the second quarter of 2020 compared with quarter one.
Omnichannel shoppers grew to 21% of loyalty program members, doubling the number from the same quarter in the previous year. Online members represented 7.5% of all members — two and a half times the previous year’s numbers. Finally, over 1,000 stores are now actively using the new service booking tool.
Taking the first steps towards touchless transactions
In our experience with retailers, the best place to start with touchless transactions is by choosing a complex cross-channel process, like BOPIS, and identifying all major customer touchpoints that warrant a touchless experience.
The next stage is to use intelligent automation tools to redesign or adjust the process to ensure that all channels are working in concert to deliver a seamless customer experience. Another tip is to use Gartner’s Hype Cycle to prioritize investments into the various technologies used to deliver touchless customer interactions.
The genie of touchless transactions can never be put completely back into the bottle. Consumers who have become used to searching, transacting, acquiring and consuming products without physical contact in a safe environment are unlikely to want to go back to the old ways of doing things, especially if they can achieve those aims with a personalized, integrated experience across all channels.
The debate over whether cash will ever completely disappear remains in play across the world. But the safety, speed and convenience of digital payments — especially when touch-free — will surely continue impacting how consumers interact with retailers in the future.