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How the no-touch trend is making us rethink the retail experience

“U can’t touch this!” MC Hammer, April 1990

It is said that the average smartphone user checks his phone 224 times a day. That’s a lot of finger marks on a surface that could potentially harbour deadly viruses, as we learned during the ongoing COVID pandemic.

To keep the economy going, brands and their retailers had to rethink the whole consumer experience, especially the touchy-feely bits that we naturally embrace. While we believe that the human touch is an enduring, primordial need, some of these initiatives are bound to last, and will reshape how we shop and interact with one another for a long-time.

People have been shopping online for over 2 decades now but the pandemic has boosted that behaviour to new levels of adoption: In June 2020, 3 times more US shoppers bought their groceries online compared to the same period last year. Needless to say, there is a flurry of activity in that space with retailers partnering with online shopping apps or finally taking their own app seriously. Anecdotally Amazon posted its biggest profit ever in July this year…

When we head to the stores, we keep our hands to ourselves. UK supermarket chain Asda introduced a Scan & Go service in all its 581 stores, effectively letting shoppers pack and pay without getting into physical contact with another human being. There is a good reason for that, every interaction carries a risk. According to a study by First Insight, a majority of consumers in the US (especially women and boomers) would not feel safe interacting with sales staff, testing beauty products or trying apparels.

The industry is responding accordingly: MAC has boosted usage of its virtual try-on.

Taiwanese company Perfect Corp has launched an app that is using AI to let consumers try any make-up in real-time, virtually. Pop-up stores are turning into virtual events and there is a renewed interest in virtual fitting rooms in stores. Virtual queuing has been adopted too to manage crowds and QR codes have come back with a vengeance, thanks to their ease of use in allowing consumers to access information, check-in and out or pay from their mobile phone easily. In fact, contactless payment has increased by 69% since January 2020 and this is set to increase further.

While it is hard to predict an end to the pandemic, when it comes to retail, we can anticipate a new beginning that is more virtual, automated yet experiential and personal, thanks, not to the human touch but to technology. If you want to explore how to turn these tensions into springboards for growth and innovation, get in touch!


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