As businesses emerge from the pandemic economy, one thing is clear: It will not be back to business as usual. There are new economic realities businesses must embrace to remain competitive.
In many ways, the pandemic acted as a great accelerator. Rapid shifts in people’s personal habits drove change and innovation on a scale — and at a pace — rarely seen, including the adoption of contactless interactions.
The uncertainty of Covid-19 drove a strong preference for contactless experiences. The use of touch-free payments skyrocketed as cautious consumers sought to reduce their in-store time to an absolute minimum. And retailers and restaurants quickly pivoted to safer options such as buy online, pick up in store, curbside pickup and QR Code ordering.
With safety and security likely to remain powerful drivers of consumer behavior, we expect contactless is here to stay.
Here are three reasons why.
1. Contactless will continue to grow.
Despite lockdowns, retail closures and economic hardships, American consumers did their part to drive economic growth in 2020, albeit in a dramatically different fashion. According to Digital Commerce 360, online consumer spending jumped 44% in 2020 to $861 billion.
Even more remarkable is that over half of these transactions were touch-free. In fact, 51% of Americans are now using some form of contactless payment, including tap-to-pay credit cards and mobile wallets like Apple Pay, according to a Mastercard study.
The number is even higher globally, with 79% of consumers saying they are now using contactless payments and 74% indicating they will continue to do so post-pandemic.
Accenture is so optimistic about this shift, they listed “a strong push toward a cashless society” as its number one long-term impact of the pandemic on global payments.
Just one example of this encouraging forecast is the announcement by the soon-to-open Legoland New York Resort that, as part of its “safe to play” strategy, it will be an entirely cashless theme park. Guests in the on-site hotel will even order their towels, room service and bedtime stories by digital voice assistant.
All of this points to strong odds of continued contactless adoption, driven initially by safety concerns and sustained by the convenience it offers for everyday transactions, even when the need to socially distance eases.
2. Safety is more than data security.
Consumers have always valued security when it comes to their data and financial information, but the pandemic introduced a new dimension, physical safety. According to Kurt Shreiner, Atlantic Capital Bank’s President of Corporate Financial Services, safety and experience are now permanently intertwined.
“There is no choice today between experience and safety,” says Shreiner. “In today’s world, we can reasonably assume that safety, whether in person or online, has leaped up the ranking as to what’s most important for a positive customer experience.”
Half of U.S. consumers worry about the cleanliness of signature touchpads and 72% prefer to skip signatures altogether, according to the Mastercard survey. This is not only strong evidence that touch-free payments will continue to gain momentum. It means at least some consumers are likely to avoid point-of-sale altogether in the future, as long as they don’t have to sacrifice experience.
The temptation for many companies will be to meet this challenge by investing in new technologies, but it’s critical that digital solutions put the customer experience at the center, advises Shreiner. “The new priority is to always keep people safe and connected despite not having a face to face experience,” he says. “Don’t ever let your clients feel ‘remote’ no matter what industry you are in or how dazzling your technology might be.”
3. Hybrid experiences are the next wave of innovation.
Too frequently we assume the word innovation means technology. But much of the recent innovation in contactless was clever and creative changes to business models.
Social distancing required new thinking and ideas rather than new technology. In fact, much of the technology businesses did adopt to put safety and convenience first already existed, including ecommerce, mobile apps, QR Codes and biometrics. Even contactless payments have been in use for more than a decade, although they weren’t widely adopted in some markets, like the U.S.
Moving forward, we are likely to see creative hybrid models that combine contactless with the experience and personalization consumers value.
“True post-pandemic innovation will be finding the right balance between the speed and convenience of contactless and the richness of in-person experiences that bring the consumer the best of both worlds,” says Atlantic Capital’s Shreiner.
Just look at the Chick-Fil-A drive through experience. For them, personalizing contactless means simple things like asking your name, offering a simple thank you, getting the order right, and keeping the line moving.
For high-end grocer Whole Foods it means introducing Amazon’s One palm scanner as a payment option for customers who want to enjoy the in-store experience but skip the traditional check out process.
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These simple lessons can be applied to fintech and payments just as easily as a quick serve restaurant or retailer. The average consumer doesn’t think about the technology. They care about their experience, delivered through speed, accuracy and safety.
Accenture predicts the payments industry will have a key role to play in revamping the economy. But to be successful, it must lead with new thinking and then merge it with the right technology, says Shreiner.
As consumers cautiously return to malls, restaurants and theatres, they will gravitate to those that successfully deliver on both.
Atlantic Capital is constantly working to deliver both better experiences and the right innovation to its customers. We are well positioned to help our customers navigate and thrive in this contactless-first post-pandemic economy.