The trends of low touch economy, contactless convenience, and frictionless payments will converge to transform the customer experience once again in 2022.
Once again, we find ourselves at the time of year where every analyst and self-proclaimed futurist attempts to predict what trends will dominate the new year waiting on the horizon. But rather than attempting to gaze into a virtual crystal ball, future certainties can be found by monitoring the behaviours, trends, and patterns that have dominated this year.
As the world began to open up and retailers looked to bounce back, it quickly became apparent that consumer behaviour had changed after enduring 18 months of lockdowns. Social commerce, live streaming, and entertainment converged to create a new medium called shoppertainment that caught much of the retail industry off guard.
The rise of the low touch economy and contactless convenience in physical retail stores meant that payments were becoming frictionless and invisible. Suppose the last best experience that anyone has anywhere really does become the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere. In that case, we can safely predict that these trends will converge to transform the customer experience once again in 2022.
Believe it or not, Amazon first unveiled its walkout technology five years ago. The simple concept involved empowering busy shoppers to select what items they want while always watching cameras detect when products are taken from or returned to the shelves. Then, when they have finished shopping, they leave the store. There is no checkout process, the consumer's account is debited, and a receipt is sent to their email address.
Various walkout stores have been popping up everywhere this year, from Abu Dhabi to London and New York. Big brands such as Starbucks are also trialling walkout technology to allow their customers to grab a coffee and sandwich off the shelf and leave the store without waiting in line to complete the checkout process.
It has been ten years since Uber allowed passengers to leave a cab without handing over physical cash upon completing their journey. These cashless experiences have become the norm in society. However, the concept of grabbing an item off the shelf and instantly leaving a store without scanning your items still feels weird a decade later. But we can expect this to change in 2022.
We have been here before. Everything from one-click checkouts to cashless ride-hailing apps has dramatically raised the expectations of consumers. But unfortunately, there is a long list of global brands such as Blockbuster, Blackberry, Kodak, and Toys R Us that all failed to adapt to the evolving needs of their customers.
However, this time things could be different. Retailers are determined not to be caught on the back foot again.
Amazon cashier-free grocery stores are aggressively going after big supermarket brands, not just in the US but across Europe. For example, in the UK, Morrisons Supermarket joined Tesco in rolling out walk out stores to stay one step ahead of the tech behemoth.
As Amazon Go's increasing presence in the UK continues to raise shoppers' expectations, it's also putting considerable pressure on retailers to transform the customer experience they provide too. So, when all these variables are combined, we are left with a race to automate or remove the checkout process from stores.
Walkout stores come in many shapes and sizes. If we dare to look behind the curtain at the tech that makes all this possible, things can quickly get expensive and even creepy. For consumers, the real cost of going cashless and cashierless could be their privacy. Ultimately, these stores have replaced human workers with multiple cameras recording every tiny movement, which many believe is normalizing personal surveillance.
The question shoppers need to ask is how much time do these stores save them? What problems are we solving with these experiences? And is your privacy a price you want to pay for such an experience? Other solutions are opting for smart carts rather than overhead cameras that promise to automate the checkout process without putting their customers' privacy at risk.
For retailers that do not have the luxury of an Amazon-sized budget, expensive overhead solutions are not realistically scalable across multiple supermarkets much bigger in size than smaller Amazon Go stores. In addition, many traditional brands are much more mindful about flirting with privacy issues and being deemed creepy.
Why walk out stores will thrive in 2022
In a digital world where time is the new currency, consumers no longer want to spend 60 hours per year queuing in checkout lanes. So, whether it's cameras on the ceilings that identify you when you enter a store, smart shopping carts, touchless kiosks, or self-scanning your items, the race to automate the checkout is officially underway.
However, before blaming big tech for removing jobs and replacing humans with cameras or sensors, maybe we need to think about the responsibilities that come with our insatiable thirst for convenience and a better experience.
Decreasing the friction of buying groceries will set a new standard of expectation for every future experience and prompt every other store to do the same in a bid to win your attention.
Grabbing items and walking out of a store without needing to wait in line at a checkout lane is an incredibly cool concept. In the same way that people embraced the convenience that Uber provides, it’s fairly easy to predict that walk out stores will prove to be a huge hit with shoppers in 2022.
The bigger debate is whether automated checkouts are worth the price that comes with it, such as removing jobs and our privacy? If you are happy to make that trade, then enjoy your walk out experience. But don't blame big tech for meeting your rising expectations and providing the experiences you are demanding everywhere.