Bolder Thinking Blog

Technology reimagined: Are we really contactless?

September 11th, 2020 | Behice Ilhan

Throughout the decades, we have designed and redesigned technology considering the human touch. We made the corners rounder, the gadgets lighter, the tools more ergonomic, and the screens more interactive. Technology, gadgets, and tools have become smaller in size and become closer to our bodies, augmenting our human-ness. They have become an essential part of our haptic desires and started to mediate our human touch. 

COVID-19, corresponding pandemic status, and following the social isolation period has drastically changed our lives, our consumer culture, and also our relation with and  practices around technology. Our haptic desires have evolved into a fear-driven abstinence mode. Because of the contamination possibilities due to COVID-19, we are hesitant, concerned, and even fearful of touching anything or anyone, including technology. During the pandemic, contactless is one of the most desired features of gadgets, tools or any other technological interface we engage with. 

Consumers refrain from touching gadgets or interactive technologies. Brands, like Visa, create ads on touchless payment claims.  We wanted to test these claims, take a quick look into how successful brands and retailers are providing contactless payments and explore the possible bottlenecks in designing full-contactless payment services in the store.

Below is a collection of field trip notes facilitated by my own curiosity. It is essential to note that my experience might be different based on my city, reward status, and/or even due to my neighborhood where I made these purchases. Mintel Field Services can provide these insights at scale with more than 30K mystery shoppers in our networks across 130 worldwide markets. Mintel’s Field Services team can help audit and assess the status of contactless (1) customer services in the branches in machine-client interactions (e.g., ATMs), employee-client interactions (e.g., branch interactions); (2) customer experiences in popular services like curb-side pick-up, last mile delivery services ; and, (3) payments (e.g., with different digital wallet options or credit cards) in various retail and service settings.

The POS (point-of-sale) systems that are used for payments have several other software systems (CRM, safety, inventory management systems, data & analytics technologies, marketing tools, etc.) integrated into them. The contactless-ness of a particular POS system is very much determined by the contactless capabilities of these other integrated systems. I have encountered three different areas that still require “the touch.”

SAFETY – Signature. Signature is still considered to be one of the most prominent ways to ensure the safety of a transaction. It is still how the customer consent is materialized by the retailer. Recent technologies have enabled a digital medium for the signature. Yet, the full digitalization of consent in e-signature or any other AI-driven means is still not widely adopted by all retailers. This safety bottleneck is one of the barriers to the full contactless payment. 

CRM – Confirmation. One of the most common integrations into POS systems is the customer relationship management solutions. CRM systems help build and maintain a loyal customer base and also help the customers redeem any loyalty points. The POS systems are also used to collect or verify CRM related information so that the retailer could offer a personalized experience. Yet, CRM related requests cannot be frictionlessly extracted from the integrated systems. The desired info – email, phone number, etc – still requires action and interaction from the customer. 

APPRECIATION – Donation / Tips. The US retail and food services entail several rituals. One of those rituals is tipping. As we are in a quest for contactless payment experiences, these rituals – majorly embedded in the offline experiences – needed to be digitized. Tipping is one of the parts of the payment process that still requires the consumer interaction. Similarly, other activities of appreciation like donation demand the user decide and agree to the amount to be donated. 

Experience systems

“The interconnectedness of the technologies and interdependence of the consumer experiences across categories demand us to understand consumer needs and consumer journey from a more systemic approach.”

Among these experiences, I had a 100% contactless experience only at these particular supermarket locations. I have shopped at various different branches, but my payment experience was similarly frictionless in each of them. I scanned my Amazon Prime QR code, paid using Apple Pay on my iWatch, and received the receipt on my Amazon Prime account. This particular retailer was very successful in bringing together different systems that they own (CRM), access (Amazon Prime), and/or manage (Apple Pay) to create a contactless experience. The role of financial services in building these new stacked experience systems is very important. The interconnectedness of the technologies and interdependence of the consumer experiences across categories demand us to understand consumer needs and consumer journey from a more systemic approach. This new dynamic calls for a new organizational scale of building and executing stacked experience systems.

 Haptics– What is after voice?

Although I refrain from touching any publicly used technology in a retail environment, I appreciate that my iWatch or iPhone touches me back each time I swipe it through a contactless payment system. Haptics feedback or haptics is defined as the use of touch feedback to the end-user. Your iWatch poking you, your game controller rumbling, your Apple Pay app vibrating after payment are all examples of haptic feedback. Following the voice trend, the haptic feedback – coupled with sound design – will take more prominent roles in digitizing and  designing brand and user experiences.

Multi-modal, multi sensory brand experiences

“Creating multi-modal, multi-sensory, and machine-readable brand experiences by translating our five senses: sound, taste, smell, touch, and vision will be an essential step in digitalism.”

Digitalism will require translation of our physical realities and experiences into digital experiences. Brands and companies will need to translate the brand essences into multi-sensory brand experiences and discover how consumers take on a co-creator role in shaping these multisensory experiences. Creating multi-modal, multi-sensory, and machine-readable brand experiences by translating our five senses: sound, taste, smell, touch, and vision will be an essential step in digitalism. The multimodal experiences will entail text, sound, smell, and touch. As contactless becomes a more widely adopted option, these multi-modal and multi-sensory brand experiences will be more critical.

Behice Ilhan

Behice Ilhan

Dr. Behice Ece Ilhan is the Senior Trend Strategist at Mintel. Behice provides futuristic perspectives and opinions on trends and their impact on the brand landscape, which she utilizes to strengthen engagement with CPG and agency clients on storytelling and positioning strategies.