COVID-19 causing more ‘contactless’ and nonhuman commerce

August 31 - September 6, 2020

By Daily Record Staff


As the impact of COVID-19 touches every part of society, nonhuman contactless methods of conducting commercial activities are becoming the norm, rather than the exception.


Locally, businesses of all types are now offering the opportunity to purchase anything from a new car or house to curbside takeout food and groceries. Other online and brick-and-mortar merchants are also making it easy for customers to try on a new dress, a pair of shoes or glasses, or conduct other similar transactions without any human interaction. 


Locally, Sherwood-based ABC Financial announced plans on a new cloud-based technology that will allow fitness club members and staff to enter a facility without making physical contact or even touching a door, allowing card access with just a wage of the hand.


“As clubs reopen their doors, members and staff can enter safely by leveraging ABC Door Access by Openpath,” said Bill Davis, CEO of Arkansas tech software firm for the fitness industry. “It’s contactless, wave-to-unlock capabilities help minimize vectors for the spread of the coronavirus.”


One of the earlier adopters of contactless service and payment options was the restaurant and fast food industry, which has been on the frontlines of the pandemic since the first cast of COVID-19 in Arkansas was confirmed in early March.


Three familiar national fast food and casual dining chains, Taco Bell, Panera Bread and Domino’s Pizza, are all pushing the envelope to offer customers more ways to purchase or have meals delivered without any human contact or currency or payment exchange by hand.


On Aug. 21, pizza chain Domino’s announced that Little Rock area franchises would be hiring more than 150 new workers at 29 local stores as demand for speedy, contactless delivery food is booming.


“Domino’s works hard to serve local communities across the country and this area is no different,” said Brent Medders, a Little Rock-area Domino’s franchise owner. “The increased demand for deliveries has amplified the need for additional team members. Stores across the region are continuing to provide pizza to those who are looking for a delicious, hot meal, and at times like this, staffing is critical.”


Domino’s official were are also quick to make sure that customers know that all Domino’s stores in the central Arkansas metropolitan area have implemented several cleanliness and sanitization precautions based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which include wearing a mask at all times, and increasing the sanitation of all frequently touched surfaces. 


“The health and safety of our team members and customers is our number one priority,” said Medders. “We are committed to offering the safest service possible, and that includes providing contactless delivery and carryout, as well as Domino’s Carside Delivery™ to those who prefer it.”


Panera Bread, which also has several locations across central Arkansas, announced a new partnership with Google on Aug. 25 allowing customers to use Google Search, Google Maps and Google Assistant apps to order food for contactless curbside pick-up or delivery. And once a Panera Bread mobile order is made, customers can also seamlessly choose contactless payment options, including Google Pay.


“Our guests are looking to us to provide easy, contactless ways to order their next meal from Panera,” said George Hanson, chief digital officer at Panera. “As a tech-forward brand, we are committed to growing our digital presence and off-premise channels. By teaming up with Google and integrating with their Search, Maps and Assistant platforms, there are now even more seamless, simple ways to order your Panera favorites for curbside pickup and delivery.”


Taco Bell fast food chain is taking its contactless concept even further by recently announcing plans for new digital drive-through service that are specifically designed for guests to order ahead through a mobile app in a “frictionless way.”


The company’s Go Mobile restaurant, the first of which will open in first quarter of 2021, will feature several key updates targeted for digital adoption that cannot be found in a traditional Taco Bell location, officials said. For example, the new concept stores will all be within 1,325 square feet -- much smaller footprint than the average 2,500 square foot restaurant.


The new stores will also have two drive-thru lanes including a new priority pick-up lane with rapid service for customers who order via the Taco Bell app. This new lane will supplement the existing, traditional lane, company officials said.


The new stories will also be powered by smart kitchen technology that’s integrated with the Taco Bell mobile app, allow each restaurant to detect when guests have arrived at the restaurant and suggest the quickest route for a seamless pick-up experience. Customers using the mobile app will also have the option to receive their order via contactless curbside pick-up.


“With demand for our drive-thru at an all-time high, we know adapting to meet our consumers rapidly changing needs has never been more important,” said Mike Grams, Taco Bell president and COO of global operations. “[Our] mobile restaurant concept is not only an evolved physical footprint, but a completely synchronized digital experience centered around streamlining guest access points. For the first time, our guests will have the ability to choose the pick-up experience that best fits their needs, all while never leaving the comfort of their cars.”


Outside the food and restaurant, some brick-and-mortar retailers were already moving toward contactless shopping and payment options due to competition from online giant’s like Amazon, eBay and


In a news article by National Retail Federation contributor Craig Guillot in early May, many retailers said they had instituted new policies around cleaning card readers and terminals. Those same retail operators also admitted consumers were increasing concerned about touching more thing in a store than they must.


In the NRF article, Richard Crone, CEO of Crone Consulting, estimated the use of contactless payments has grown by 20% since the start of the pandemic. While primary players like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay have reported increased use, so have others. Smaller retailers and businesses are also rolling out new contactless payment options through providers like Square and Venmo


As noted by NRF, nearly all these contactless methods enable consumers to download an app, connect a bank account, then tap the device near a contactless reader to make a payment. When executed properly, consumers can conduct entire transactions on their mobile devices without touching anything else.


“Consumers want safety, and they want to know when they have to touch something that it’s sanitized,” Crone says. “There’s nothing more assuring than their own phone.”


Those safety concerns are not just widespread among larger and high-end retailers like Walmart, Target, Dillard’s, Best Buy, and Macy’s, but COVID-19 is also reshaping the way gas station operators and convenience stores interact with their customers in-store and at the pump.


Atlanta-based Professional Datasolutions (PDI) Inc, a software solutions firm for the convenience retail and petroleum wholesale markets, released a new study on Aug. 25 on how consumer habits are shifting with c-store shoppers amid the global pandemic that has now reached nearly 6 million positive cases and 185,000 deaths. According to PDI findings, which included responses from 450 convenience retailers, COVID-19 has also created a significant impact on the way consumers pay now, and likely, for the foreseeable future. 


Nearly three out of ten U.S. and non-American convenience retailers experienced changes in purchase and payment trends like increased contactless and mobile payment, as well as curbside pickup or home delivery.


According to the report published in early April by Allied Market Research, the global contactless payments market was estimated at $8.75 billion in 2017 and is expected to hit $27.23 billion by 2023, representing annual growth of 20.8%.    


PHOTO CAPTION: (Photo provided)


Taco Bell recently unveiled its smaller, Go Mobile digital restaurant and drive-thru concept with smart kitchen as customers request “contactless” food amid pandemic.