The Six-Foot Economy
Written by Sandra Tansky
Why Pandemic-Related Changes to Retail Might Be Here to Stay
Life amid the COVID-19 pandemic has set in long enough so that we’re beginning to create new muscle memory as consumers. Where we gave little thought to high-touch surfaces before, we now demand that payment pads, kiosks and countertops be cleaned and maintained via rigorous safety protocols. Where we would gather in masses to take advantage of discounts in brick-and-mortar locations, we now treat the store as a local fulfillment center where we can shop, pick up items at curbside, or even have the store deliver it to our homes via services such as Shipt. Where we previously queued in continuous register lines, we now often wait to be admitted due to reduced store capacity and observe six feet of distance from the shopper in front of us once in line.
This is the Six-Foot Economy, and it will live far beyond this pandemic.
Joe Mach is the President of ENS Group, a global leader of payment accessories such as ultraviolet (UV) cleaning solutions, tablet enclosures, mobile technology solutions, kiosks and more. His background involves considerable experience in electronic cashless payments and security, and the parallels between providing safety for your payment data and physical safety for shoppers amidst a pandemic are relevant .
“Payments security is having multiple layers. Just doing one thing is not good enough,” notes Mach. “And I think when you start to think about safety, that same rule applies. There’s not [just] one thing that a retailer can do that’s going to create a safe environment for their customers to feel welcome in.”
What does that look like, practically? According to Mach, “When you think about safety, customers are going to shop where they feel safe. We can make them feel safe, but not feel socially distanced. You start thinking about things like distributed point of sale. For example, having three registers all lined up in a row doesn’t work anymore. Think about taking point of sale…and spreading them throughout the store. You’re meeting the customers where they’re at, and they’re getting that physical distancing that they can’t with traditional point of sale. We’re seeing retailers working on a couple projects now where they’re using a handheld [for this purpose].”
Louis Alterman, President and CEO of the global managed mobile services provider Stratix, elaborates upon that theme. According to Alterman, “If you think about the big box retailers, you’ve got an employee standing outside with a mobile device counting the number of people coming in and going out so that they can meter building occupancy; that was a thing that didn’t exist a months ago. Retailers are now almost universally using tablets for curbside pickup. Airlines are now using queuing technology and various applications within the jet. Every restaurant – whether it’s QSR fast casual or fine dining – is at some stage of implementing curbside pickup solution. The best ones are of course using mobile technology to optimize the experience for the customer.”
Responding in agreement, Mach believes retailers should “spend a few bucks with your Point of Sale company and turn off signatures. Eliminate touching keys, unless it’s a PIN transaction. Get accepting contactless and near-field communication (NFC) wallets.”
“Companies need to minimize the amount of physical time they spend together with the customer, while still making it a delightful experience when they do, and that is a tricky balance,” explains Alterman. “A lot of this is new and requires mobile devices, new apps to be written and a lot of new business processes and protocols to be put in place quickly. Companies have to do all this while keeping their own employees safe.”
Retailers who are looking beyond their current circumstances should be able to see ample light at the end of the tunnel. “There’s going to be some things,” predicts Mach, “that we as consumers just enjoy better. Even though I’m a technology geek. I never did Buy Online Pick Up in Stores (BOPIS) in the parking lot until [the pandemic] happened. So, some of that consumer behavior is just going to change because it is a better experience. Retailers that are able to really think about the journey of the customer, and then work backwards – those are going to be the ones that are going to thrive and are going to succeed. Pick the right technology [to] create that safe environment to deal with the ‘new normal’ and find partners to help you fulfill that vision.”
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