Burger King has started airing ads about making its drive-thrus contactless for both payments and pickups. Publix, the Florida-based grocery chain, this month said it completed its rollout of tap-to-pay registers at its more than 1,200 locations across the Southeast. And Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, late last month said it will provide no-contact pickup, delivery and in-store checkout.
There are many uncertainties about how thewill impact people’s health, their jobs and the economy, but some consumer trends have already become so obvious that they suggest a long-lasting shift in people’s behavior when the COVID-19 crisis finally departs. One of them is the move toward in the US getting supercharged, as shoppers try to restrict what they touch in stores — if they go out at all — to avoid catching the virus.
Studies have shown that the coronavirus can live for 24 hours on cardboard and several days on hard surfaces. Now retailers that remain open are scrambling to respond to this new consumer need. When thousands of other merchants reopen following the pandemic, they will have to reevaluate how they operate their stores to coax shoppers back. Where backers once pitched contactless technologies for their convenience, retailers will give them new consideration for their health and safety benefits.
These technologies range from the mundane, with payment terminals at your local grocer enabling contactless payments like Apple Pay, to the futuristic, with Amazon Go stores, delivery drones and sidewalk robots getting more enthusiastic support from the public because they enable social distancing.
“I do believe this is an opportunity,” said Oz Alon, co-founder and CEO of HoneyBook, a financial tech startup in San Francisco. “This is a huge event in the world, people are going to change their behaviors and a lot of things that have struggled for adoption will get a new push.”
The expected shift to contactless tech comes as the retail world has faced enormous challenges during the outbreak. Grocery stores and online retailers that have stayed open are dealing with a flood of new shoppers. Other retailers face an uncertain future, with iconic brands including Apple and Nike closing their retail locations. Consumers, too, will be forced to reconsider every aspect of their shopping, even things that were second nature: Is it OK for me to pick up a piece of fruit at a grocery store and put it back? Should I sign my receipt after payment? Do I my boxes of cereal?
As the federal and state governments start to discuss what reopening the economy will look like, contactless technologies are going to be part of the equation, especially in busy places like transit systems and stadiums. It’s important to note, though, that all this sophisticated tech still won’t replace health professionals’ recommendations to wash hands and wear a mask in public.
More Apple Pay, less cash
People reading this story in several other countries might find it strange that the US is so far behind in contactless payments. After all, places including Canada, England, Australia and Poland have already made contactless the default form of in-store payment when using plastic.
Visa and Mastercard have been working to convince consumers to make the switch, seeing tap-to-pay as an easier and faster way to conduct a transaction compared with cash, magnetic stripes and chip card payments. If you have a more enjoyable experience using your card, you’re more likely to use it again and again — and that’s good for these payment processors.
This work has been slow going, as retailers have replaced old payment terminals with contactless ones and as banks mail out new contactless cards to their millions of customers. These efforts are now getting ramped up as consumer interest increases. Mastercard said it’s reinforcing its messaging on contactless methods during the crisis.
Transit authorities have already been introducing contactless payments, and that should make it a little easier for people to venture outside again. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority turned on contactless payments in some subway stations last May, allowing people to tap and pay at turnstiles. That helps people avoid waiting in line, tapping a pay-station touchscreen and dipping a card — all activities commuters likely want to avoid these days.
Last year, the payment industry widely believed these types of tap-to-pay transit terminals, which also accept Apple Pay and Google Pay in phones, would spark the move to contactless transactions in the US. It appears it will likely be the coronavirus instead.
“I can see consumer behaviors changing for sure from the situation we’re in,” said Linda Kirkpatrick, president of US issuers for Mastercard. “When those consumer behaviors change over several months, they tend to stick.”
While Mastercard declined to offer recent data on contactless transactions, Kirkpatrick said she’s already seen several merchants put up signs directing shoppers to use that form of payment. To cut down on touching shared objects, she added, her company is also encouraging retailers tofor transactions, something Mastercard, Discover, American Express and Visa stopped requiring two years ago.
Drones, sidewalk robots and Amazon Go
There are a wide variety of newer retail technologies that are likely to get a push in adoption due to the pandemic.