Burger King began running advertisements to make both payments and withdrawals contactless at its drive-thrus restaurants. Publix, a Florida-based retail chain, said days ago it had completed rollout of tap-to-pay cash registers in its more than 1.200 locations in the Southeast. Walmart, the world's largest retailer, said late last month that it will provide contacless in-store pickup, delivery and payment.
There are many uncertainties about the impact of the coronavirus on people's health, their jobs and the economy. However, some consumer trends have already become so evident that they suggest a lasting change in people's behavior, even when the Covid-19 crisis is resolved. The key word is contactless.
A world with less contact
One of them is the transition to contactless transactions. Shoppers try to limit what they touch in stores (when they go out) to avoid encountering the virus. Studies have shown that the coronavirus can live (especially without sun exposure) for 24 hours on cardboard and even several days on hard surfaces.
Retailers who want to stay open will also have to equip themselves to respond to this new consumer need.
It is a hygienic issue, of course, but mainly psychological. Merchants will need to reevaluate how they run their stores to get shoppers to come back.
If before contactless was promoted by focusing on the concept of "comfort", today the key to its mass introduction will be that of "health and safety".
Contactless at all levels
These technologies range from the mundane (payment terminals in small grocery stores that allow contactless payment services such as Apple Pay), to the futuristic, such as Amazon Go stores, delivery drones and robot.
Oz Alon, co-founder and CEO of HoneyBook, a financial technology startup in San Francisco, is certain of it. "People will change their behaviors and many things that were struggling to find space will have a new push."
The planned transition to contactless technology comes at the stage where the retail world faces enormous challenges. The grocery stores and online retailers left open are dealing with an invasion of new shoppers. Iconic brands including Apple and Nike are closing many physical stores around the world.
Consumers will also be forced to reconsider every aspect of their purchases,
As discussions continue in governments about what the reopening of the economy will look like, contactless technologies will be part of the equation, especially in crowded places like transportation and stadiums.
It is important to point out that all this sophisticated technology does not replace the advice of health professionals to wash their hands and wear the mask even in public.
In the short term: less and less cash
Whatever the big operators like Visa and Mastercard say, the attempt to replace cash with "tap to pay" technologies had largely failed. For the sake of Italy, still behind for "managerial" and del Japan for "psychological" reasons, in a few countries the switch had worked. Canada, UK, Poland and Australia already have contactless as their first option, countries like the US are further behind.
Today, inertia changes dramatically. Consumer interest drives a fast (very fast) transition.
Contactless for transportation and food is crucial because it can make it a little easier for people to venture outside again.
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority activated contactless payments at some subway stations just last May, allowing people to pay directly at the turnstiles.
This helps people avoid waiting in line, tapping a touchscreen, or swiping a card - all of which they likely want to avoid these days.
In the medium term: drones, robots and other technologies
I said about food and transportation. Well. But there are numerous new retail technologies that could be prompted by the coronavirus to adopt contactless technologies.
Delivery drones, currently limited by strict regulations, have already experienced this increased demand. A, Google's parent company, has seen orders for its drones more than double Wing. Even in rural areas of the United States, which are part of its pilot program.
"Technology is particularly useful at a time when people are forced to stay at home in many cases and the need to limit human-to-human contact is important."says Wing's spokesperson Jonathan Bass.
Starship, a company whose "sidewalk" robots offer snacks and breakfasts is seeing an increase in demand. "We are working as quickly as possible to expand our robot delivery service so that we can help more people. Many grocery stores, restaurants and other delivery companies are also contacting us for help.", the company said in a note.
We have gone from convenience to essential service for many people. Our community is asking us to expand quickly.
Another growing concept is the now well-known system Just Walk Out by Amazon Go, which allows you to check in at a turnstile at the entrance of a store using the telephone, pick up anything you want to buy, and go out without stopping at the cashier.
Amazon has created around 25 of these stores so far, and today only Seattle locations remain open during the pandemic.
In early April, Amazon began offering this technology to other retailers as well, something that seemed unthinkable until recently. Now it wouldn't surprise anyone if Amazon received more technology requests than it can handle.
"Traditional" money itself fails
Contactless will likely play a role in undermining the oldest form of lasting payment: cash.
Company Kickfin he said he is seeing a surge in interest from restaurants during the crisis. Kickfin's service allows restaurants to tip their employees digitally, rather than in cash.
"Nobody touches the money; nobody pays in cash"says the co-founder Brian Hassan.
Another disclaimer, a duty: it is likely that many people avoid banknotes, of course. It is also true that the WHO said last month that there is nothing wrong with handling cash these days as long as you wash your hands.
My usual doubts
The idea of a cashless society has been criticized as discriminating against people without bank accounts and credit cards. The criticism also focuses on the power of tech companies to detect and manage too much personal data. These concerns will persist even after the health emergency.
Contactless is here to stay
However, the transition to contactless transactions is part of a much broader trend, especially with people more attentive to their money in a financially unstable period (which is expected to be long).
Taking advantage of this increased interest, far more companies are likely to launch new payment technologies for a post-coronavirus world.