Today’s customers are technologically savvier than ever, well versed in using their personal devices to connect with brands and conduct business. With the advent of the COVID crisis, customer expectations for how they work, bank, shop, learn, and socialize have changed1, with adoption levels for digital experiences exceeding projections by more than five years2. Accordingly, customer experience has never been more important34.
With health being top of mind, consumers are choosing to conduct more activities online before venturing out to stores5. When they do choose to interact outside of their home, customers have new expectations around health and hygiene measures for both themselves and any staff interactions. They also expect to complete at least some, if not all, of their business without human intervention6.
As businesses have pivoted to support the ability to complete more transactions online, to buy online and pick up in person, and to have more-personalized service when in store, consumer expectations and the need for frictionless and safe experiences have never been greater124.
Immersed almost exclusively in the immediacy, convenience, availability, and safety of digital experiences…, consumers reset their expectations and preferences, and forced retailers to change their trajectory, priorities, and operating model7.
To meet health and safety requirements as well as customer expectations, companies around the world are introducing touchless technologies into their customer journeys.
Touchless technologies enable consumers to complete touch-free transactions with systems. Rather than requiring physical touch, transactions can be conducted through touchless interactions such as gestures; object, facial, or speech detection; or conversational AI.
Transmission of pathogens through touch has long been studied8. Removing touch from interactive experiences reduces the likelihood of touch-based transmission from those interactions and helps to alleviate customers’ touch-based germ-exposure concerns.
There is an important distinction to note in the differences between touchless and contactless technologies. Touchless technologies allow users to interact with systems without any form of physical input. For example, a customer can use a voice command to select a digital menu item rather than pressing a button. Contactless technologies reduce physical contact between people. Scanning a quick response (QR) code on a phone to complete a purchase, rather than handing an attendant a credit card, is an example of contactless technology in use.
Businesses can combine the use of touchless technologies and contactless technologies that help to reduce contact with another human, such as self-checkout or buy online and pick up in store (BOPIS) pickup lockers, to provide customers with increasingly frictionless and safer experiences.
Today’s customers expect some degree of contactless operations when they interact with a brand. A 2021 McKinsey study found a 20 percent increase in US consumer preferences for some sort of contactless interaction since January 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.4 Visa, in its 2021 Back to Business Study, found that 85 percent of those surveyed expected some level of digitally enabled shopping in store, and 49 percent considered contactless payments a health and hygiene measure9.
Enabling Touchless Technology
Businesses can integrate touchless technologies into customer journeys today through innovative technologies, including:
- Computer vision to enable object and facial detection use cases
- Touchless gesture control that uses computer vision, radar, and artificial intelligence (AI) to recognize gesture-based interactions
- Conversational, or speech-enabled, AI to detect and respond to vocal sounds as commands
Further combined with edge computing for near-real-time data analysis and responsiveness and AI to convert data into insights, opportunities to support retail operations in new ways have never been greater.
Examples of how touchless technologies can be used in different scenarios include:
- Checking into a hotel or conducting bank business at a kiosk through gesture- or voice-based interactions
- Asking a service robot for information about a product or the product’s location in a store
- Clocking in for a work shift with a smartphone
- Signing documents using voice recognition
- Accessing a secured workplace with opt-in facial recognition
- Navigating a display screen as a tactile experience using touchless haptic feedback and audio descriptions—a more accessible experience for a person with a visual disability
Incorporating Touchless Technology
Customers today are looking for safe, convenient, and efficient experiences in their interactions with brands, and they are willing to switch brands to get the experience they desire.
An August 2020 McKinsey customer pulse study reported that an average of 40 percent of survey respondents located across four countries had tried or purchased from new brands within the first three months of the pandemic.3 Subsequent McKinsey surveys conducted in October 2021 around the world found that this change in brand loyalty and customer purchasing behavior remains10.
To meet these customer experience expectations, businesses are evaluating their omnichannel strategies and looking at ways to reduce friction from customer interactions with their brand. To reduce friction from in-person experiences, touchless technologies can help to address customer germ-exposure concerns and provide increased convenience as well as operational benefits.
With varying levels of health-related requirements in place (business, local, state, national), customers who choose to go into a business expect some in-store safety protocols to apply3. Additionally, they want to easily find what they are looking for to minimize interaction time with other shoppers3.
Depending on the guidelines that apply to your business, touchless technologies can be used to meet expectations and remove friction at the point of entry. Businesses may consider adding temperature check technology, such as the VINO2100 from Intel partner iBase. The iBase product offers real-time face mask detection and accurate body temperature measurement without a human operator. This reduces health risks to building or venue employees and shortens customer wait times.
To automate occupancy or social distancing compliance, Sensormatic Solutions, working with Intel, is bringing artificial intelligence enhancements to in-store cameras and sensors to help stores operate safely while also laying the foundation for further innovation beyond the pandemic. The Sensormatic IQ platform, in use across industries, provides near-real-time insights on occupancy and traffic patterns, staffing placement, inventory needs, and loss prevention and liability data.
Once in the building, eye-catching digital signage can draw customer attention to health requirements as well as quickly identify areas of the store, such as online order pickup kiosks, pickup lockers, or self-service checkouts.
Customers who have indicated a secure locker as their pickup preference can use their personal devices to gain access to their merchandise and leave the store without any person-to-person interaction. When using an online order pickup kiosk, the customer can complete their transaction or indicate they have arrived for pickup through touchless gesture- or voice-based interactions before being directed to an area within the store to retrieve their merchandise. To further remove friction, once a customer enters the store, their personal mobile device might show a localized store-layout map that identifies where order pickup is located, reducing the number of systems requiring interaction.
In these examples, wayfinding and customer support are now integrated into the in-store experience, helping customers complete their transactions more quickly and smoothly with limited to no physical interaction with staff or systems.
Service robots can also be used in these scenarios to add an additional layer of personalized service. SM Supermalls, a shopping mall chain in the Philippines, introduced smart service robots enabled by Intel® technologies that use voice interaction, computer vision, and autonomous navigation to streamline and enhance the visitor experience. The robots give directions, display movie showtimes for the in-mall theater, and provide targeted marketing—all without requiring touch-based interactions. This helps to reduce wait times, shorten lines, and free up mall staff for higher-priority tasks.
When customers interact with self-service kiosks, removing touch from the interaction can help to reduce customer health and safety concerns as well as overall transaction time. The use of self-service kiosks to streamline customer journeys and increase operational efficiency is not new, with pervasive use across industries, including retail, banking, quick-service restaurants, hospitality, transportation, entertainment and more.
With attention now on touchless interactions, businesses looking to leverage their current systems can transform touch-based kiosks and interactive displays into touchless solutions with technology such as that offered by Outdu. Outdu’s near-real-time video and audio analytics solution built on Intel® technology can be used to retrofit existing equipment into touchless systems that recognize gesture- or voice-based inputs as well as, in some cases, read QR codes off a customer’s personal mobile device.
To create even more-engaging and more-differentiated service, innovative solutions such as the DaveAI virtual AI service avatar and AI chatbot solution can be used to enable personalized, real-time, voice-based interactions with a conversationally intelligent AI sales avatar. The DaveAI solution can be incorporated across channels, including digital kiosks, virtual reality (VR) devices, mobile apps, and online properties to offer customers 24-hour seamless access to a virtual sales associate. When used with VR, the virtual sales avatar can offer immersive discovery experiences to enhance in-person shopping, such as displaying configuration options to customers as they consider purchasing a car on a dealership lot.
Use cases for conversational AI apply across industries. A leading bank in India is using an AI Virtual Assistant kiosk solution, powered by Intel and multiple Intel partner technologies, to assist customers with in-branch services.
In the restaurant industry, Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken Restaurant is using a conversational AI solution created by Hi Auto and powered with Intel® technology to increase the speed of service and shorten wait times in their drive-thrus. The solution greets the guests, takes the order while answering questions, and, where appropriate, upsells before confirming and completing the order.
Point of Sale (POS)
The end of a successful customer journey results in the customer completing a transaction and the business making a sale. Therefore, optimizing the purchase process is a critical component of a frictionless experience.
For example, for added convenience, some retailers offer pick-and-go kiosks and smart vending machines along with self- and staff-assisted checkout. Smart vending products, such as those from TouchGo Technology, combine vivid displays; touchless, gesture-based interactions; and contactless payment solutions to efficiently help end customers with product selection and purchase. TouchGo Technology also reports that their business customers have seen a 25 to 30 percent increase in average total transaction value from machines with contactless payment capabilities compared to cash-based machines11.
In cases where customers can’t find the product they are looking for in store, customers can use self-service endless aisle kiosks like those from Intel partner NCR NetKey. The kiosks can check inventory, compare products, and purchase items that are out of stock or not carried in store and have them shipped to customers’ homes. This experience can also be supported by in-store employees with mobile POS systems.
The checkout experience, whether staff assisted or done via a self-checkout system, also presents opportunities for optimization. Checkout today typically requires physically handling and individually scanning all items for purchase in order to add them to the POS system. To optimize self-checkout and reduce touch-based interactions, intelligent, touchless checkout systems like those offered by NEXCOM use computer vision, AI, and machine learning to automatically identify and add multiple items to the self-service POS terminal, avoiding the hassles of barcode scanning. Combined with integrated, contactless payment capabilities, customers can use digital wallets or near-field communication (NFC)‒enabled cards to quickly complete their purchase with no touch interactions with systems or staff required.
Future checkout scenarios may include “whole basket” checkout, where smart baskets or carts are used to record merchandise as it is added and removed, enabling customers to shop and pay automatically without a traditional checkout process upon exiting the store. With the introduction of autonomous stores, such as Amazon Go, customers today can simply walk in, take what they need, and leave, being charged for only the things they’ve taken.
Greg Buzek, founder and president of the IHL Group, estimates that by 2023 the use of self-checkout will rise 178 percent, contactless payments by 190 percent, and consumer mobile payments by 300 percent12. And a 2020 consumer survey by 451 Research found that 86 percent of consumers who first used contactless payments as a result of pandemic-related measures intended to continue using that touchless, contactless transaction method6.
It's difficult to predict the future and anticipate what’s coming next, but it’s clear that touchless technologies of all kinds, from cameras to RF solutions, will be part of that future13.
Determining What’s Right for Your Business
The objective of a frictionless experience is to, ultimately, drive business by helping customers achieve their goals. When done well, frictionless experiences can:
- Increase per-transaction amounts as a result of easy-to-find products and product information, multiple purchase and payment options, and well-placed upsells
- Increase stickiness through well-integrated omnichannel experiences, loyalty programs, and online account sign-ups
- Build brand loyalty and repeat sales through delightful, convenient, and efficient experiences
- Increase operational efficiency
There are multiple ways in which to introduce touchless technology into your business operations. Before settling on a particular product or solution, it’s important to first understand your customers’ journeys and the points of highest friction where a touchless solution may help streamline the experience and deliver corresponding positive business benefits.
With the dynamic nature of the current business landscape and changing customer expectations, you may want to start by addressing the highest-value touchpoints first, then observe the resulting business impacts before addressing additional parts of the customer journey or incorporating new technologies.
As part of your omnichannel strategy, you must also consider your technical infrastructure and compute power needs to ensure you can support the experiences and business benefits you need today while simultaneously building in future flexibility.
Cross-channel and cross-system data visibility and access are key to realizing the full potential of an omnichannel experience. Additionally, the ability to store, manage, process, and react to that data is vital to delivering the experiences your customers expect. It won’t matter if you offer computer vision‒assisted checkout if the system has slow responsiveness resulting in a subpar experience that is less efficient than other checkout methods. Performance, reliability, manageability, and data security are all essential technical requirements.
Start Your Journey with Intel
Intel® technologies for computer vision, touchless gesture controls, speech and conversational AI help deliver frictionless, differentiated customer experiences, and business results.
Our deep partner network and broad technology portfolio give you access to thousands of market-ready, prevalidated products that are fully interoperable with Intel® architecture. We also offer a rich set of developer toolkits, libraries, and reference designs to optimize workloads for your applications and to help you get to market and value faster.
The future for touchless technology in business, aided by continuous advances in leading-edge technology, has never been so innovative, dynamic, and laden with potential opportunities. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. That’s where Intel can help.