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Smarter shopping: Is this the year we see a drastic change in the way we spend money in-store?

With the evolution of the internet and the popularisation of smartphones, the retail industry has seen a massive shift in the way consumers pay for goods.

While contactless payments aren’t exactly new, there continues to be interesting innovations in the space. And with it being possible to stick an NFC chip in pretty much anything these days, 2019 could be the year that we see a drastic change in the way we hand over our hard earned cash.

Perhaps I’m just old, but it didn’t feel like it was too long ago that paying with card instead of cash was a novelty. Today, you’d be surprised to walk into any high street retailer and be told they don’t accept plastic. And in addition to credit and debit cards, paying with smartphones and smartwatches have also become the norm.

According to a report from Zion Market Research, the global mobile payment technology market was valued at around $123.5 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach approximately $3,371.6 billion by 2024. This massive jump outlines just how fast-paced the mobile payments industry is moving, so it’s no surprise that we’re now starting to see some futuristic examples of innovation in this area.

Contactless coffee

One payment-related story that caught my eye towards the end of 2018 was a partnership between Costa Coffee and Barclays to produce the “Clever Cup”. This smart device harnesses contactless payment technology and uses it to turn customers’ reusable coffee cups into a “fast and convenient way to pay”.

Powered by bPay by Barclaycard technology, Clever Cup users can track their spending, top up their balance, and take control to block or cancel the contactless payment element online or using the dedicated iOS and Android bPay app.

Sold in packaging made from recycled coffee cups, the Clever Cup features a silicon base and contactless chip, which is detachable for ease of washing.

“Contactless technology has become increasingly prominent in our daily lives and through the launch of the new Costa/Barclaycard Clever Cup we hope to appeal to those tech-savvy customers to help facilitate and drive environmentally friendly behaviour,” says Jason Cotta, managing director at Costa Coffee.

Although this may seem a bit out of the realm of IT and tech retail, the technology within the cup can actually be used wherever customers see the contactless symbol and not just Costa Coffee stores. And as Barclays’ head of sales and partnerships, Rob Morgan, explains, this simple idea could be replicated an a number of different ways.

“Today’s shoppers are looking for seamless and ‘to hand’ ways to pay. Our wearable chip technology allows almost any accessory to be transformed into a smart payment device, unlocking the benefits of speed and ease in everyday purchases,” he says.

Another level

It looks like the retail and payments sectors aren’t stopping at just making various physical objects credit card replacements though, as smart checkout technology looks go to one step further in a bid to compete with the ease of online shopping.

Retail giant Amazon has a number of Go stores in the US which have no lines and no checkouts. Instead, the ceiling of the store has multiple cameras and the shelves have weight sensors, so when a customer takes an item off the shelf, it will be added to the person’s virtual cart. If a customer places an item back on the shelf, it is automatically taken back out of their cart.

The card attached to their account is automatically billed when they leave the store, and the Amazon Go app also allows customers to add spouses and children to their account so anything taken from the store can be charged correctly.

Amazon is reportedly eyeing up London’s West End as the location of its first Go store in the UK and is planning to open as many as 3,000 stores across the globe by 2021. But aside from Amazon’s plans for futuristic supermarkets, is the rest of the retail world really interested in making their stores truly contactless?

If Juniper Research’s latest report about future in-store tech is anything to go by, not only are retailers getting on board, but consumers are willing to adjust their habits too.

The company forecasts that retail spend at frictionless payment stores like Amazon Go will grow from an estimated $253 million in 2018 to over $45 billion by 2023.

The new report also found that self-scanning apps, an alternative to ‘Just Walk Out’ technologies, will be used by over 32 million shoppers by 2023, driving higher engagement.

While WiFi will continue to remain the biggest engagement point for customers, Juniper expects smart checkout apps to act as gateways to technologies like Bluetooth beacons and augmented reality.

The research found that customer service is a key area for in-store innovation, with retailers experimenting with automated handling of customer queries. It predicts that voice assistants and in-store robots will support this in 2023, with robots generating over $20 million in revenue for their manufacturers.

Early leaders here include Softbank’s Pepper, Bossa Nova Robotics’ shelf-scanning, and Lowe’s customer service robots, says Juniper.

“Many of these technologies can bring multiple benefits to retailers,” explains research author James Moar. “For example, Robots and RFID can be used in both customer service and inventory management; making both elements of in-store retail more efficient.”

Augmented retail

On the subject of futuristic retail tech, at a recent webinar hosted by cloud company UKFast, Simon Wharton, director of business strategy at eCommerce agency PushON, noted how augmented reality could bring a new lease of life to our high streets in 2019, and presents the opportunity for retailers to expand their reach both online and offline.

“Retailers have the chance to create a shopping journey that is thoroughly experiential, where you visit a store as more of a social event to experience products through augmented reality and omni-channel technology,” said Wharton.

“As we head into a new year, it is clear that providing a high standard of customer experience and seamless user journeys remain the key focus for online retail strategies moving forward.

“The online marketplace is flourishing and UK businesses must find new ways to take advantage of this environment that is filled with opportunity.”

While it remains to be seen whether these types of tech will truly affect the way consumers shop on a large scale, if the current state of the high street is any indication, retailers must ensure that whatever they decided to do – whether it’s clever coffee cups, smart shelves, or AR – it keeps their brand fresh in the minds of today’s savvy shoppers.

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