The human touch of retail could be lost forever due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and will extend long beyond the end of the current pandemic, reports Forbes.

From the surge in contactless payments to supermarkets installing protective screens for staff. From drop off at the door to robot retail, the future of shopping will be hands-free as the COVID-19 outbreak looks set to change consumer habits forever.

Until now we’ve shopped with our hands

The retail experience has long been one which utilises all of our senses. We primarily shop with our eyes and connect with brands that visually appeal to us.

Yet equally important has been the hands-on experience demanded by customers. We want to check how the clothes we’re browsing feel to the touch. We pick up food items to glance at the information on the packaging. Supermarket workers scan purchases by hand and pass them to us to pop into our shopping bags.

But the coronavirus pandemic has quickly changed all that. All of a sudden we don’t want to touch anything. Suddenly, every item in a store is to be viewed with suspicion. Fuel pump handles, supermarket trolleys, push-button door entry systems and even parcel deliveries are all to be treated with the utmost suspicion for fear of the bugs they may harbour.

The future of contactless is now

Contactless payment solutions are rapidly becoming the preferred way of conducting retail transactions. Indeed, many retailers are already specifically encouraging customers to utilise the contactless technology that exists in payment cards and mobile phones.

Zero-contact delivery – which until recently would have been viewed as a deeply impersonal method of customer service – has suddenly become a necessity.

We’re already seeing kerbside collections where customers pick up their click-and-collect items outside of a physical store. Services are ditching contact with people.

Forbes references garage services in the UK where self-isolating people needing maintenance work on their vehicles are encouraged to stay in while mechanics attend to cars on the driveway, and vet services in Australia where the pet is collected by staff and consultations happen remotely.

Tap-and-go, app-based ordering services and touch-free transactions are swiftly becoming the norm. To reduce human contact, robot retail and drone delivery technology are rapidly gathering pace. The new world which will emerge once the current crisis eases will surely be one in which the best way to interact with customers is to keep your distance.