Blog Post - Naji El-Arifi, Dec 4 2020

Naji El-Arifi Talks Touch Free Shopping with The Times

Naji El-Arifi Talks Touch Free Shopping with The Times

Naji El-Arifi, Head of Innovation, at Wunderman Thompson Commerce recently spoke with Nick Eason about “touch-free shopping” for an article published in The Times Raconteur Future of Retail 2020 special report.

The report also examines how retail is expected to continue post-coronavirus, what brands need to know about social commerce, the new retail calendar and much more.

Why is touch-free shopping the key to a Covid-conscious future?

Making a contactless payment is probably the most common way to use touch-free retail technology. This year, 75% of Visa payments across Europe have been contactless, according to Visa, and Mastercard has similarly reported a majority of 78% of European payments being contactless in 2020.

Touch-free transactions have added speed, convenience, and safety to customers’ experience, which has cemented the tech’s place in retail. Even Apple has incorporated its TouchID functionality from the iPhone into their laptop keyboards to facilitate touch-free online transactions as well as biometric security.

However, technology can offer the retail industry a lot more than just making payments with the press of a fingertip, or the flash of a face. And I think it’s important that we explore this potential now while online and contact-free spend is set to grow astronomically.

Currently, 65% of consumers expect to use digital shopping channels even more than they do already, according to the Future Shopper Report, and this number rises to 72% if we look specifically at those aged between 16 and 24.

The more consumers use digital, the more retailers will need to sell through digital channels, thereby increasing the competition online, and forcing retailers to differentiate themselves by providing innovative customer experiences.

Touch-free technology will be one of the ways customers will be able to receive best-in-class experiences and ensure businesses can get a bigger slice of the retail pie.

What could a touch-free shopping experience look like?

It’s impossible to tell exactly what the customer experience will look like in the long-term, but current innovations do indicate what's just ahead.

One evolution of touch-free payments has already been implemented in China. Facial recognition means customers can pay for their goods by simply smiling at a point-of-sale machine, which is able to connect their face to a registered bank account. Essentially, a trip to the shops is not wasted if you forget your money or phone.

Augmented Reality (AR) is another technology that is starting to make waves in the touch-free space. Sofa company, DFS, already offers customers the option to see what products look like in their own house, by using their smartphone camera and the Safari mobile browser. Dulux also offers a similar service with their paint colours. Ultimately, it means customers are able to better assess how well a product meets their needs, which allows them to buy with more confidence.

Virtual Reality (VR) is also gaining traction in the retail innovation space. E-commerce retailer Amazon has even created a smart band, with an app, that can make a 3D model of your body. It's not much of a stretch to see how this kind of technology could then be used in VR or for shopping for clothing. VR will also allow brands the ability to start to deliver customers an instore experience in the comfort of their own home.

In turn, retailers will be able to provide services that are even more relevant to individual customers. If this is possible it could be a real market differentiator, but of course, will come with a heavy price tag.

What tech investments do these experiences require?

If these innovative touch-free experiences are going to be offered, then the retail industry needs to have the infrastructure to facilitate it. Currently, we are seeing a lot of changes to technology that will make the 3D virtual world more accessible.

For example, the new iPhones and iPad Pros have Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors which make it possible to scan customers to attain clothing sizes more accurately. Not to mention provide a much more realistic AR experience for customers.

Devices like the Oculus Quest 2 also make virtual reality far more accessible for retailers. However, if retail brands are considering this route, they’ll also need to deliberate hiring games designers who will be able to create the interactive VR experiences businesses will be aiming to provide customers with.

We can’t be sure how quickly the adoption of these touch-free innovations will take place, especially with the financial strain imposed by COVID-19.

However, one thing that is certain is that retailers need to be thinking about how they can marry the speed and convenience of touch-free across their channels. From my perspective, this is the only way retailers can hope to win in the “new normal”.