With the emergence of the Covid virus and repeated public health messages to wash our hands well and often, we are all more conscious of how our sense of touch helps us navigate the world.

A significant driver of the customer behaviour changes we are seeing is an increased desire for cleanliness and wanting to avoid touching surfaces that others may have touched. Covid looks set to remain a health concern for many months, more than long enough for new behaviours to become ingrained habits.

So what does this mean for retail?

Shift to online

Phygital is a relatively new word that merges “physical” and “digital” and refers to how online and store environments integrate to create a smooth customer experience.

More customers than ever are researching and buying online. It’s never been more important to have integrated channels that make it easy for the customer to shop with you. That means every step of the customer journey works seamlessly; with easy purchasing, efficient Click & Collect or kerbside pickup operations, a range of convenient options for returns and customer support. It needs retailers to abandon separate teams working in silos and requires integrated systems so colleagues can support customers via different channels.

Phygital increasingly means including sales enabled social media, such as Instagram Shoppable posts, and customer services teams have been expanding resources to reply to customers using social media Direct messaging and live chat channels.

Contactless ordering

Customers have adopted the use of apps on their own devices to order goods. While many retailers’ websites are clunky and not easy to use on mobile devices, apps offer a better experience. App ordering is increasingly used by hospitality brands to allow customers to pre-order so the customers can literally grab and go. Global brands, like Starbucks and McDonald’s, introduced order ahead apps back in 2015 and it’s a model I’m expect will expand into retail. Smart retailers are already leveraging their store network as a convenient way for customers to fulfil online orders, it’s a small step to use store hubs as quick turnaround order and collect points.

Delivery routes

Retailers are looking to partners to provide rapid delivery services to local customers without having to set up their own network, as UberEats are doing in the grocery sector. Multiple order routes add operational complexity instore as retailers juggle customers instore, their own online orders and partner orders pinging a mobile device. Customers using touchless options expect convenience and efficiency and failing to deliver on their expectations is a sure-fire way to get them to try out your competition.

Contactless payment

Payment is a big chunk of colleague time for retail stores and time required at tills is being transformed by touchless technology. Self-checkout, self-scan apps and Amazons RFID driven payment-free stores are driving change and the move from cash to contactless payment all save retailer time. Retailers need to rethink the checkout area footprint and recalibrate how much resource to invest in the payment and order collection areas. It is essential to match the colleague resource to your new demand driven by changes in customer behaviour and deployment of technologies that change the service model. Time and Motion studies that measure how long payment and fulfilment take in this new world are the foundation for you to model the colleague resources required.

The best retailers have always adapted to change and integrated new technologies into their operation in a way that works for their brand and their customers. Touchless technologies meet an important need for customers, and retailers that understand where touchless improves their customer journey will be set well to succeed.

Simon Hedaux is founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity