Can’t touch this: What technologies are taking touchless retail to the next level?

Can’t touch this: What technologies are taking touchless retail to the next level?

By Daniel Morales

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had a crippling effect on a large part of the retail experience, with retail bankruptcies in 2020 jumping 63% higher from the previous year and businesses that depend on foot traffic taking the biggest hit. Both large and small retailers have reevaluated their consumer journey, phasing out the contact aspect as much as possible to ensure the safety and wellbeing of patrons. Companies are finding ways to keep their customers engaged by turning to innovations in touchless product sampling that are being driven by advances in mixed and augmented reality as well as novel display and delivery techniques.

Here, we profile some of the latest technologies and strategies that can help businesses adapt to the “new normal” by shifting to a touchless retail experience.

Mixed reality and artificial reality in the home improvement sector:

Mixed reality (MR) uses a hologram-based headset such as the Microsoft HoloLens to layer holograms onto the real world, creating a mixed reality that enables customers to do things such as customize and choose the best products for their kitchen by visualizing the furnishings of their kitchen.

Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, relies on headset-free technologies that are available in the smart devices of the average customer. IKEA has an app called IKEA Place, which was developed on the ARKit platform using Apple’s AR developer environment, that lets customers project 3D items and furniture from IKEA into an AR space in their home environment. Lowe’s 3D is a similar app with a “view in your space” function. Google’s Tango technology, now matured into ARCore, powers this app.

Motion sensing and augmented reality in apparel:

Motion sensing technologies, along with AR, are offering touchless retail experiences in the apparel sector. They can be used to set up invisible pop-up stores, or enable any customer with a webcam or smartphone to turn their home environment into a virtual fitting room. 

Apparel brands such as Timberland and TopShop have utilized motion sensing technologies like Microsoft Kinect, which registers a customer located in front of an AR mirror and creates a virtual fitting room experience. This smart mirror allows customers to visualize the in-store clothes on themselves.

Lacoste, in conjunction with Engine Creative, launched an AR mobile app where customers can virtually try on shoes and have AR experiences complete with in-store signage, window displays, and promotional postcards. 

Adidas launched an AR app for trying on sneakers with Vyking, a company that specializes in making AR environments for footwear brands.

Augmented reality in cosmetics sampling:

The touchless cosmetics retail experience is finally here, as a number of beauty brands are turning to AR to offer touchless makeup trials

Charlotte Tilbury developed a Magic Mirror on the wall with Holition, a creative studio. With this technology, a patron looks into the mirror in a store, where their face is scanned, and images of how their face would appear with various curated looks are displayed on the mirror.

Sephora, on the other hand, created a mobile makeup app, where the individual uploads a selfie, to which they can apply makeup. Similarly, L’Oréal Paris’s app, Makeup Genius, allows patrons to try on curated looks and see how they suit their faces.

Ulta Beauty went a step further and launched the Glam Lab app, where customers can sample virtual makeup and try multitudes of products to build their look, then order their L’Oréal Paris Makeup Genius customized list of products, if desired. 

Interactive shop windows:

With the number of in-store shoppers being restricted, shop windows have a bigger role now in driving customer engagement. Interactive shop windows turn advertising from a monologue to a dialogue by gamifying marketing messages. In order to avoid touching surfaces, technologies that use recognition of motion, gestures, and facial expressions through computer vision provide a touchless, safe, and intuitive interface with which customers can interact with content in smart windows.

Retail brands such as Dylan’s Candy Bar are using interactive windows developed by Outernets. In addition to eliminating the need for physical browsing of products, smart windows can also perform data analytics in real time to provide targeted marketing to customers, enabling faster shopping and quicker turnarounds.

Small businesses can also provide touchless interactive shop windows with the use of technologies such as the Glamos, the world’s smallest LiDAR device. This device can be connected to a smartphone or laptop, and its contents can be projected onto a screen on the window that customers can interact with. 

Take-home food sampling:

Food retailers have relied on in-store sampling as a reliable sales conversion strategy. With the current coronavirus conditions, they have two directions to pivot. 

To enable in-person sample delivery and relationship building, stores can provide dry demos to customers. How it works: Customers are given sachets or sealed samples of products to take home and try. EDS Strategy is an example of a company specializing in such in-store product demos, which act as an extension to existing sales teams.

Drive-thru sampling offers a quicker grab-and-go alternative. A cereal startup brand called Three Wishes has been using drive-thru sampling to replace their in-store demos.

For e-commerce businesses, free samples can be added to online grocery orders


The pandemic has catalyzed the development and implementation of technologies that were poised to affect the consumer experience in retail, such as AR/VR and interaction-free shopping. To replicate in-store experiences, AR and VR experiences will become crucial for product categories that involve sampling. As the innovative technologies outlined here indicate, opportunities exist for retailers to brand and package their services and experiences for consumers to shop safely from home as well as in stores.

This article includes excerpts from our Intelligence Brief titled “The Retail Landscape in 2020 & Beyond.” The full report can be found here.

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at

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