- Today, people are avoiding touch due to the fear of coronavirus.
- Zero-touch technology might help offer services without the need for touch.
- Pandemic has changed the behavior of people to a great extend.
- Digital, online, and contactless payments in America is rising.
- Businesses can adopt Zero-touch technology to become more appealing to customers.
The coronavirus pandemic that started in Wuhan province of China has now spread to every part of the world. Almost every country imposed lockdown and quarantines to avoid loss of human lives and other damages for the past few months. While some were successful in containing the virus, others saw a great loss of human life. Nonetheless, with economies facing heavy losses, countries are now starting to open up. This move by various countries will mean office, schools, universities, restaurants, and other social places will open too.
Despite being several rules in place, people are still going to be a little paranoid. Zero-touch can help that. Technology has been a major force behind various efforts to contain the virus. Touch is one of the most fundamental modes of communication. The ability to touch something is crucial be it a handshake, a fist bump, a pat on the back, or a hug, these are gestures of affection. However, touching is the primary mode in which the coronavirus spread’s, people are trying to avoid it as much as they can.
In the near future, people might keep avoiding touches until there is some kind of control over the spread. Coronavirus is known to stick on different kinds of surfaces and survive from anywhere between a couple hours to up to 5 days. People are naturally suspicious and scared to touch any kind of surface which might expose them to the virus. However, several essential activities require people to touch public surfaces such as groceries, ATM machines, opening doors, calling the elevator, or signing for delivery.
Zero-touch technology is also known as no-touch, touchless, and contactless. It has the potential to perform essential activities without exposing its users to a possible contagion. There are a few sectors that have already implemented and using no-touch technology even before the COVID-19 crisis. Regardless of the usage of this technology has been scarce and scattered. Now, the coronavirus, the implementation of the technology might soon become widespread as well as prominent in every aspect.
Developments in Zero Touch Technology
In the last ten years, zero-touch or contactless technology has observed considerable developments. For example, voice-based technology such as Alexa or Google Home, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), and Near-Field Communication (NFC), and haptic technology involving kinaesthetic communication or 3D touch. Voice-based platforms are have not become both mainstream and integral parts of our lives. Since 2018, the number of smart speaker owners in the U.S. grew by 40% to reach 66.4 million or 26.2%, according to a new report from Voicebot.ai and Voicify.
These technologies have the potential to be developed and expanded to create a sanitized and contactless ecosystem. One of the sectors which have seen immense growth in the adoption of this technology is the healthcare sector. The sector has turned to remote monitoring devices to provide care to non-coronavirus patients. Other than healthcare, business conferences, and events have all shifted online through virtual platforms. All these small steps are practically pushing us towards a holistic digital life.
Potential of Zero-touch Technology
Zero-touch has already achieved great accomplishments. Its employment has facilitated contactless cash withdrawals at ATMs, faster checkouts at retail POS, distanced delivery of goods, and automated calling of elevators. Organizations in several sectors are developing the required solutions for instilling a no-touch technology to better service their offerings. For example, AxleHire, a logistics company, has introduced no-touch technology for delivery. It allows their customers to sign the delivery of the packages through the company’s app on their smartphones. It enables them to receive deliveries while maintaining the required social distance measures from the delivery personnel.
Coronavirus has bought down the trust among people on retailers and on every surface and object which might have been previously exposed to others. The zero-touch technology has the potential to not just provide convenience but help businesses establish trust with their customers. Hence, the post-coronavirus zero-touch technology software application will become a new norm and will be able to empower businesses to retain their customers as well as imbibe a sense of trust and safety. Nevertheless, businesses should remember that the implementation of technology should be smooth, secure, and robust to guarantee quality assurance.
Other examples of Zero-touch technology include, Burger King is working on making its drive-thru’s contactless for pickups and payments. Publix, the grocery chain in Florida, said that they have rolled-out tap-to-pay registers at more than 1,200 locations across the Southeast. Similarly, Walmart is now offering no-contact services for payment, delivery, and even pickups.
Change in Customer Behavior
Recently, a survey found that nearly 74% of people have either worn gloves or wiped down before using a public touch surface or touchpoint. Among these surveyees, as much about 80% believe that they are going to behave differently while interacting with public technology. This would include washing or sanitizing their hands after using public touch screens for 51%, less usage of cash machines for 25%, and using contactless payments for 48%.
Another survey canvassing 500 online global consumers by Astound Commerce, between March 9 and March 16, in the U.S., Europe, Canada, and the Middle East. It found three momentous, changes in consumer behavior:
- Globally Online Shopping Spiked to 55%
Unexpected lockdown forced to shut the doors of physical stores. This in turn resulted in major shifting of demand towards e-commerce as people were trying to secure essentials by any means. Nearly 20% percent of the shoppers in the U.S. reported paid a premium due to stocks running out.
- Consumers Returned to the Basics
The perspective of consumers has changed the consuming pattern due to panic buying which focused on non-discretionary products such as healthcare products, shelf-stable food items, and cleaners. According to the U.S. discretionary items such as apparel saw declines in purchasing of over 120 percent.
- Pickup and Delivery
People are scared and most of them don’t want to leave the safety of their homes due to the natural spread of the virus. In the U.S. nearly 72 percent of shoppers indicated an intentional shift towards contactless interactions. This has resulted in shoppers using more omnichannel services such as store pickup (the U.S. up 44 percent) and delivery. Grocery delivery increased by 39 percent worldwide.
To understand how consumers are opting for Zero-touch or Contactless technology lets look are some numbers:
Image Credit: Business Insiders
Now, the initial shock of the pandemic is wearing off. However, it is time for shoppers to settle into this new normal. So what do these behavioral changes mean for retailers?
Leveraging Zero-touch Technology for Business Continuity
As zero-touch technology is becoming essential as not just because of virus spreads on surfaces but more because customers are frightened. As businesses reopen, it is going to be hard for customers to enter a public space and be not to be hyperaware that it might have intercepted someone else’s sneeze or cough. Places can range from door handles to checkout touchscreens. Hence, businesses should opt for Zero-touch technology that doesn’t require customers to touch anything.
Businesses need to realize that a crucial part of the customer journey is a physical channel. Hence, they should consider converting to contactless operations. Second Story, experience design agency, has recently rigged prototypes using zero-touch tech such as elevator buttons using sensors that can be pressed by hovering a finger to eliminate the need for contact. The agency is also working with retailers, museums, restaurants, and other businesses and organizations to help them reimagine life with its new program called Adaptive Spaces.
Joel Krieger, Chief Creative Officer says “None of our physical spaces were designed for post-quarantine existence, and so we imagine that for these spaces to reopen in any sort of meaningful way, we have to give it a lot more thought.”
By adapting will help businesses finding better ways to limit the number of people in a space. Designers of the company are also working on different ways to direct people safely around spaces without annoying them. They are also focusing on maintaining a healthy distance between them. Designers are working on an opportunity for technology to help reduce the infection chance through spread on surfaces. Some companies are taking the concept far by shifting business models. For example, Starbucks is planning to close its 400 cafes to replace them with pickup-only stores.
Businesses can also opt for zero-touch technologies that are already mainstream. For instance, the automatic sliding doors that became widespread in the mid-20th century. However, another technology that is still isn’t ubiquitous can also be implemented. For instance, the Leap Motion Controller can sense someone’s hands using ultraviolet light and sensors. Integration of leap motion controller in a building can help facilitate interactions with many things such as touchscreen without having a need to actually touch it.
According to a global study by Mastercard conducted on 15 markets, consumers are moving away from cash to contact-free and digital payments. Mastercard SpendingPulse reports recorded growth rates across the globe as consumers increasingly shop online. Businesses can work on simplifying the online checkout experience to an in-store tap on a contact less terminal. They can also implement click-to-pay for a one-click checkout experience. Moreover, they can incorporate designing digital products rather than just focusing on supporting physical cards for digital experiences.
This technology can prove to be fairly inexpensive for retail stores and museums that have already invested heavily in touchscreen displays. However, in this circumstance businesses are finding themselves in very tight spot money-wise. Hence, they might shy away from re-plumbing all their technology. So they can work on how they can modify the existing technology. For example, businesses can utilize voice technology to replace touchscreens. Voice commands could be potentially used in elevators.
Businesses should adopt these technologies as avoiding the need for touch is better than relying on cleaning. Furthermore, businesses should now remove the band-Aid fixes that were deployed during the initial phase of lockdowns. They should now be replaced will more careful solutions.
In the United States, Walgreens has rolled out drive-through shopping experience. Customers order from a menu of available items such as household goods, medical supplies, and groceries. Store associates assemble and check out the order—all from the convenience of the drive-through window. Grocery chains have kept their physical stores open to shoppers but are adding touch less measures, including new installations of plexiglass “sneeze guards” at every cash register to protect customers and employees.
Digital delivery has also gained significance due to the necessity for customers that are confined at home. Its adoption has been grown strongly, even among the most digitally resistant customers. The rapid development of digital functionalities has become a key to ensuring the continuity of services for some companies. Many players in service industries have already accelerated digital value-added services. This may also include deliveries via drones or robots. Other companies have taken steps to make their digital services free to help existing customers and broaden their reach.
Many fitness companies are now extending free trials for their online and app-based classes. Users can download an app and sign-ups to convert into a digital customer. This approach has opened up new possibilities that many customers the company has reaches online and converted to digital services will stick with them even after the crisis is over. Businesses have shifted to digital platforms to deliver great experiences and maintain relationships with customers.
Similarly, businesses should also focus on contact less home delivery. In the past few months, it has gone from convenience to necessity. For instance, during the time of crisis, online contact less grocery home-delivery users in Italy double between February and March. Also, the United States has seen a rise in home delivery options beyond food. Pharmacies offer extended free trials on their prescription delivery service and car dealerships offer to pick up and drop off vehicles for repair and maintenance.
In the time of crises, Zero-touch technology can be both empowering and intimidating. It has the potential to help businesses normalize their day-to-day activities to quite an extend. It can reduce the need to contact objects or other common surfaces. It can help people gain the confidence of the retailer they are buying from. On the other hand, retailers will also have an opportunity to create a more friendly and safe environment for the customers. Businesses can opt for this technology at various levels from doors to payment systems.