The shift to contactless physical retail and promise of haptics for online retail


Yesterday the Sunrise national breakfast TV program featured brief excerpts from an interview with me highlighting two related key trends: Physical retail is going contactless, avoiding touch where possible, and online retail is using haptics to enable touch and feel at a distance.

As I note, Amazon first launched its AmazonGo contactless no-checkout supermarket in 2016. It has over 20 stores open in the US now, has recently licensed their technology to other retailers, and was reported to be planning thousands of outlets across the US in the next years.

Of course their early move puts them well ahead of the game as other retailers now rush to make the shopping experience involve as little contact as possible. Among others, Walmart’s Sam Club now has “scan and go” using your phone to avoid checkouts.

While physical retailers want to avoid touch, online retailers want to replicate the sense of touch that is so important to buying a whole array of goods from clothes to household utensils.

One promising new approach is using ultrasound, with the recently launched Emerge (shown in the video) and Ultraleap both prominent purveyors of ultrasound to evoke touch at a distance, for applications including retail.

There are a variety of other haptic technologies, with the new approaches suggesting strong potential for the future, though it will likely take some time to play out.

So on the one hand in physical retail is designing experiences to avoid all touch.

At the same time online retail will become a more powerful competitor to in-store buying as it is able to emulate the sense of touch.

Image: Emerge