Heather Altepeter is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), founder and owner of National Association of Merchants (NMA).
The retail space is undergoing a technological transformation in the face of labor shortages and changing customer demand. A recent survey shows that 66% of in-store shoppers want a non-traditional checkout experience that allows them to shop at their own pace. Forward-thinking retail environments should pay close attention to unattended payment options to support their business models.
Types of self-service
Self-service and digital payment options surged in the aftermath of the pandemic, with limiting payment touchpoints equating to a reduction in potential infections. Now, in an environment marked by inflation and a lack of employees, I see companies further expanding their ability to provide self-service experiences.
• Self-service kiosks such as self-checkout machines, which enable faster transaction times through improved network connectivity, digital wallet options and insightful display features.
• Scan-and-go technology that tracks items in real time and allows customers to pay on their phone as they leave the store.
• Unattended environments such as vending machines, laundry services, and public transportation kiosks, which allow individuals to complete a transaction without staff on site.
• Autonomous stores that offer 100% contactless shopping and a hassle-free checkout experience.
Regardless of which option a company chooses, it’s important to make sure you have the right payment software solutions and technology to support the experience.
The evolution of unattended payment options
Previous iterations of unmanaged payment options, such as vending machines, had to support a range of legacy payment options. I’ve seen accepting cash or the need for a printed receipt cause constant friction.
Today’s automated digital environment is enabling a new era of payment processing options in the unattended retail space. Contactless payment account eight out of ten consumer interactions, and the ease of use for digital wallets is why almost half of the world’s population is estimated to use them in 2024.
Businesses need to ensure they have the software to deal with these opportunities, including:
• Payment terminals (POS) equipped with EMV chip technology for contactless payment.
• Mobile POS options that allow payment to be collected via mobile devices in combination with a card reader.
• Tap-to-phone mobile POS options, eliminating the card reader terminal and instead transacting directly between a customer’s mobile device and the store’s.
• Security protocols to help protect card absent transactions.
By incorporating digital solutions into payment processing, retailers can conduct business transactions seamlessly and with long-term benefits.
The impact of unmanaged payment options
Accepting electronic payments is associated with an increase in customer satisfaction. This is shown by a study by PYMNTS 77% of shoppers are more willing to patronize retailers with scan-and-go payment options.
Self-service options also allow limited employee involvement, resulting in labor cost savings and increased operational efficiency. Fast food restaurants, for example, have installed self-order counters in restaurants, allowing their employees to focus on serving and preparing food rather than taking customer orders.
Another area that retail salespeople often struggle with is how to effectively use their space, from storefront to warehouse. Unmanaged environments have a minimal footprint, so businesses can adapt their space for better product flow and sales potential. These are just some of the ways that unattended payment technology can benefit a retail environment. But what might it look like in action? See robot servers and food runners equipped with AI camera technology to avoid obstacles and move around objects. Over time, the benefit can really add up.
Challenges retailers face when implementing self-service payment options
While providing a self-service payment experience is aligned with consumer needs, there are a number of challenges retailers face. Customers believe that self-service options make an impact when the experience is seamless. However, 67% of shoppers say they experienced a glitch in the self-checkout line. The reality is that most self-scanning stations are not really autonomous. And while leading to a decline in traditional retail positions such as cashiers, today’s self-checkout options still require staff supervision.
Another challenge is the high start-up costs, as the machines are often expensive to install, making it nearly impossible for smaller merchants to modernize at the same rate as retail giants such as Walmart, Target, and more.
However, not all installations of modern payment systems need to be strenuous or costly. Retailers should at least consider implementing contactless options like Apple Pay. The more seamless and smoother your checkout and user experience, the better. Customers will love the fast, secure, and accessible transactions, and you might even find success converting one-time customers into repeat customers. Additionally, smaller merchants can research contactless kiosks that offer no upfront cost.
The reality is that companies operate in an ever-changing business climate where modernization and automation are critical to success. And with more than 60% of retailers investing more in expanded payment options for customers, creating an innovative shopping experience will be imperative for the stores of the future.