The Future of Contactless Shopping

Contactless payment systems were in development long before COVID-19 hit. Here’s a look at what companies are working on for the future. Developers of contactless payment systems must write software that captures the purchase, as well as supporting transactions between retailers, banks and automated payment clearinghouses.

 

JUST ASK ALEXA TO PAY FOR IT

Sam’s Club members, using the Scan & Go icon on their Sam’s Club phone app, can scan the QR code on Sam’s Club gas pumps. A receipt is emailed after fueling, eliminating the need to scan their membership card.

Amazon’s Alexa pay platform at more than 11,500 Exxon and Mobil gas stations, however, makes even Sam’s Club contactless payments look cumbersome. Amazon customers can pay for gas just by saying, “Alexa, pay for gas.” The system then uses GPS location software to pinpoint the station. Alexa then asks for the pump number, which the customer also speaks into the phone.

The service pairs natural-language processors with neural architecture (artificial intelligence on steroids) to complete the command, searching the cloud to verify that the purchaser is an Amazon customer. After the gas is pumped, Alexa then bills the customer’s Amazon account. Alexa can’t yet buy chips and a soda inside the gas station, and it won’t work in retail stores for some time, according to Retail Leader magazine.

 

WEARABLE PAYMENT SYSTEMS

Allied Market Research is reporting that consumers have adopted all kinds of wearable payment devices, “from wristbands, fitness trackers and watches to jewelry and smart clothing.” These wristbands are how guests at Oak & Stone in North Naples pay for craft beers they pour themselves from taps on the wall of the local restaurant and bar.

The devices integrate radio frequency identification (RFID), QR code and bar codes with Bluetooth and point-of-sale equipment tied to the cloud.

The wearable payments industry garnered $285.47 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach $1.37 trillion by 2027.

 

AUTOMATED STORE SHELVES

The future of contactless payments involves cameras in the ceiling, facial recognition software and automated store shelves. Amazon Go is not the only startup for cashier-less stores; plenty of other companies are working on fully automated retail.

Here’s how one system, created by Adroit Worldwide Media (AWM), works. Known as the Smart Shelf Frictionless platform, it uses cameras, advanced computer vision and artificial intelligence to watch shoppers as they move through a store, detecting what customers take off a shelf. The system requires pre-registering; it won’t work with shoppers for whom it doesn’t already have account information.

When shoppers arrive at the store, they launch the mobile app to check in and initiate a “frictionless shopping session.” On entering, a customer is verified by a system of cameras and facial recognition software. Once the AWM platform verifies the shopper’s identity, he or she can begin shopping.

“Super-wide-angle, low-light, high-definition cameras” track shoppers as they move through the store, the company states. By monitoring changes to weight on a shelf, AWM’s Automated Inventory Intelligence solution tracks which products the shopper selects and tallies the sales.

Once the customer is finished shopping, he simply walks out the door as the cameras record the end of his visit. He is automatically charged through the preferred payment method in his digital wallet, which the store already has on file.

Another benefit, developers say: The system can suggest buying lighter fluid when you purchase a steak and make other “did you forget” suggestions.

 

STORES THAT DRIVE THEMSELVES

How about a store that drives itself in a limited downtown area, picking a different corner each morning to sell coffee and other items? Wheelys, a company that develops pedal-powered coffee stations, is experimenting with mobile stores that enable self-checkout.

They created an RV-sized store called Moby, which can travel a pre-programmed route or use curb sensors to make its way down uncrowded streets without a driver. A customer can enter through a sliding glass door with an app that contains their pre-registered credit card information. The small store has no employee, no cashier, no queue, no waiting—a shopper scans fruits, potato chips, coffee, magazines, sneakers and other items with their phone app, then leaves. The store’s app automatically charges the customer’s account.

The Swedish company has been testing the 24-hour mobile grocery store in Shanghai. The self-driving technology is still being worked out.

 

Photo Credit: Getty