Unattended Retail Thrives

The trend is being driven by a desire for convenience and health-related concerns.

May 04, 2021

Unattended Retail Service at Train Station

ALEXANDRIA, Va.— The possibilities for unattended retail are growing, reports PYMNTS.com. Vending stations, kiosks and self-service machines are all a part of the unattended retail industry, which can be broadly defined as sales that take place without human interaction.

In today’s era of social distancing and pandemic-driven demand for contactless options, retailers have leveraged technology to dispense everything from sweaters and automobiles to worms and bitcoin, said Paul Stadler, former senior vice president at USA Technologies.

As businesses accelerate their digital transformations, the contactless payment market is expected to grow to more than $100 billion by 2026, up from its current market value of an estimated $40 billion.

Unattended retail promises to provide improved efficiencies, cost savings, speed and convenience. Kiosks and self-checkout solutions help minimize human contact, and some consumers consider them to be safer options as the pandemic persists. Consumers’ expectations for faster, easier and frictionless shopping and payments are higher than ever as they seek out more control and instant gratification. Merchants like self-service technology because it helps reduce errors, serve more customers, save labor costs and increase profitability.

Carla Balakgie, CEO, National Automatic Merchandising Association, said because vending machines offer pre-packaged products that can often be accessed through mobile apps or ordering features, touchless self-services are “considered safe”. As merchants work to provide solutions that comfort consumers, this has accelerated the adoption of such machines.

However, some concerns remain about how well these services reduce risk, since using any self-checkout can mean touching the same surface that hundreds of other people have touched. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the risk of surface exposure to COVID-19 is low, but it is not zero. This fear of contagion is still the most common reason consumers give for turning to online shopping, according to a PYMNTS report. Some retailers have acknowledged that dilemma and introduced UV-powered antibacterial or antimicrobial technology to reduce nearly 100% of germs on high-touch surfaces.

There are numerous options for shopping without touching screens. Cameras for facial recognition and voice-enabled systems are alternatives already being used in health-care facilities and airports, and they could easily lend themselves to a retail setting. Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology at its Go stores, which it also provides to other retailers such as Hudson, allows customers to shop with as little human contact as possible. The system uses weight sensors, overhead cameras and deep-learning technology to detect when items are removed from shelves. Those items are automatically added to a virtual cart on customers’ smartphones. This kind of technology makes shopping experiences more hygienic, keeps foot traffic moving and decreases time spent waiting in kiosk lines.

The global unattended retail market is expected to grow to a value of $46 billion by 2027, according to the PYMNTS report. The public’s demand for self-service is driving many industries to invest in unattended machines and automated devices. Smartphones are being used as a tool for delivering safer in-store shopping experiences as well. According to PYMNTS research, consumers have used voice-enabled devices, mobile apps and kiosks more consistently in the past few years, with the pandemic only accelerating that migration. Consumer trends and advancements in technology, powered both by an increased desire for efficiency and seamlessness and health concerns, are expected to continue throughout 2021 and beyond.

To read more about how technology is influencing how businesses are delivering service to customers, don’t miss “Robots Deliver” and “The ‘Vision’ of Future Checkout” in NACS Magazine.