Over the past two decades, technology has transformed the consumer experience. When we shop in stores, we don’t even need to pull out our credit cards; we can just use our phones. And we can buy almost anything online.
But while it is easier than ever to shop, there’s still lots of room for improvement. Consider how much time you spend waiting in line to check out—Americans spend a collective 37 billion hours waiting in line annually—or how many repetitive minutes you spend filling out payment details when you shop on a new website.
Fortunately, technology companies are solving these problems as we speak. And many of these improvements are ready to roll out in 2022. Here are three ways that shopping will be more fun and less time-consuming this year.
You’ll text to shop
Imagine ordering a new pair of AirPods by texting Apple, or chatting about new book releases with your local bookstore, then making a purchase via text. In China, Singapore, and other parts of the world, it’s increasingly common to shop using messaging apps, but in the U.S., it hasn’t taken off yet. That’s about to change, thanks to a wave of companies developing technology that will allow customers to text to shop, including TextRetailer, Text2Shop, and Walmart Luminate, which the retailer developed in-house.
One exciting new platform launching in 2022 is Wizard Commerce. Cofounded by Marc Lore, Walmart’s former head of e-commerce, and Melissa Bridgeford, a tech entrepreneur, the company raised $50 million in funding in October. They’re developing a platform that will let a consumer text a brand and have a conversation about products. For instance, if you saw a pair of Allbirds shoes on Instagram, you could text the image to a special Allbirds number and chat about buying them. This interaction will be powered by artificial intelligence, but there will also be humans on hand should things get more complicated. In a final step, you’d get a link to a secure website to submit your payment details, which would be saved for any future transaction. Wizard expects to announce partnerships with big retailers and brands in early 2022.
“Asian consumers tend to adopt technologies earlier than we do here in the States,” says Bridgeford. “But the fact that conversational, text-based commerce is so popular in Asia suggests that it could also take off here. And we believe that the time is right for American consumers to try this new approach to shopping.”
Bridgeford points out that Americans are already living in a mobile-first world, ordering rides through Uber or Lyft and groceries through Instacart or Postmates. “But while these apps were designed for smartphones, e-commerce was generally designed for a desktop and shrunk down to fit your smartphone,” she says. “We’re creating technology that is more organic to the mobile experience, using the kind of text conversations that we’re already used to having with our friends.”
You’ll never input your credit card again
One of the most annoying parts about shopping online is that you need to constantly have your credit card handy. Shopify solved this problem by saving your payment information across all brands on its platform, while Amazon is famous for its one-click ordering system. But imagine if you could do that with any e-commerce site.
That’s the vision behind Fast, a startup launched by Australian entrepreneur Domm Holland in 2020. Today, 60% of consumers abandon their online carts because they forgot their password or don’t want to upload their credit card details. To solve this problem, Fast has created a system that allows consumers to buy items anywhere on the internet with one click—no login required. Eventually, Fast aims to incorporate these “buy buttons” on publishers’ websites and emails as well. “If you see a product you like on Vogue‘s website or in a newsletter, for instance, you could click to buy it immediately,” Holland says.
In January 2021, Stripe led a $102 million Series B investment round, bringing its total funding to $124 million. This has allowed the company to invest in building out its technology and bringing on new sellers. Fast says its system takes less than an hour for retailers to install and add “buy buttons” to products, and that early adopters like Ski Haus and Gerard Cosmetics have seen an increase in conversation rates after installing Fast checkout buttons. The Guardian Bookshop, which allows readers to instantly buy a book they’ve read about in the newspaper, increased total orders by 43% after installing Fast.
Holland says that Fast is not, at its core, about checkouts at all. It’s about helping to create a secure online identity for a consumer. Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon have all created ecosystems in which consumers feel safe sharing their identity and using it to pay for products or log into websites. Fast’s goal is to create an internet-wide system that’s just as secure, so customers feel safe sharing their information across the internet. “It’s vitally important for us to build trust with customers by making it clear that we’re protecting their data and not using it for any other purposes,” he says.
You’ll love your robot cashiers
Shopping at brick-and-mortar stores is about to get better too. For several years, grocery stores like Whole Foods and big box stores like Target have set up self-checkout systems. But this can be complicated if the bar code isn’t in an obvious place, or if you’re trying to pay for something that doesn’t have a bar code, like fruit. Many consumers don’t want to deal with the hassle and choose to stand in line to wait for a cashier. But things are changing quickly. Amazon Go has a system that allows customers to walk out of a store without checking out at all. This has spurred many tech companies, including Grabandgo, Caper, and Zippin, to develop cashierless technologies that will allow other retailers to compete by making checkouts faster and easier.
One that’s thrived during the pandemic is Mashgin, a startup founded in 2013 that specializes in using computer vision to instantly price items, without any bar codes. Mashgin’s technology is particularly good at recognizing items that don’t come in traditional packaging, such as produce and open plates. The checkout systems’s computers can automatically identify the item from any angle, then weigh it to get its price. You can even put multiple items in front of the camera, to save time.
With a relatively lean investment of $11.5 million in Series A funding in 2017, Mashgin doubled the number of its kiosks in 2021, a year when many companies were eager to keep their staff and customers safe. The company has rolled out its technology in more than 500 venues, including sports arenas, hospital cafeterias, airport restaurants, and convenience stores, allowing customers to check out in a matter of seconds, even when purchasing complex items that ordinarily would require input from a checkout clerk. This allowed businesses to reduce the number of frontline workers. Pandemic or no, Mashgin is counting on the fact that consumers are increasingly impatient with waiting in line and prefer to check out on their own.