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How is COVID-19 changing the shape of touchscreen technology and its counterparts?


Dean Ward, founder and CTO at Evoke Creative, a design-led manufacturer of interactive digital solutions, which is backed by BGF, the UK’s most active investor in growing businesses, explains:

Touchscreen technology has remained relevant across retail and leisure since it first emerged on the scene, albeit across the pond in the United States, in the mid-80s. 

It’s revolutionised the way in which we interact with brands and has helped to dramatically streamline operations – at times at the expense of physical manpower. As an increasing number of companies have adopted touchscreen applications to manage customer interaction, sales and achieve greater levels of automation, the technology has become more intuitive, rapid and accurate.

Its place in the market is undeniable and seemingly infallible. But, when a global pandemic hits – and hits hard – how does its role and usage change in those relevant, yet battered sectors? Having laid dormant for months, as lockdown forced many providers to close their doors, the question is whether the technology will come under threat as we begin to open up again? The simple answer is no. Yes, there is a minority who are understandably reticent about using such devices – whether it’s to order food, book tickets, or pay for items – particularly when they’ve been touched hundreds, if not thousands of times, during the course a day. But brands are still backing touchscreen technology over a physical presence, with increased cleaning regimes and special antibacterial overlays being developed and introduced in branches and stores across the country. The thin film, with layers of silver nitrate, is placed over screens to kill bacteria and, in turn, helps to counteract any consumer concerns. However, it’s by no means 100% effective. Typically, it takes a few hours for the bacteria to be killed. This means that for premises that have a high footfall and an increased rate of screen usage the overlay cannot work fast enough. As such, it has to complement current cleaning regimes and act as a temporary solution to enable businesses to start back up again and provide customers with reassurance that their health and safety is paramount. 

While simple adjustments have been made to enable touchscreen applications to remain functional, other developments have been made in recent months to ensure that the general use of technology stays at an optimum level. One such advancement is the contactless user experience, which can be integrated into existing touchscreen systems. The contactless interface prevents the need for people to touch a screen. The intuitive piece of technology, which can be retrofitted over current self-service kiosks, allows a user to navigate the screen by waving their hand and hovering over buttons. Best suited for simpler applications, such as car parking machines and QSR systems, it helps to negate customer concerns about traditional touchscreen technology and provides extra confidence for users. 

In the current climate, confidence is key. Research and development in the kiosk sector have to be rooted in this principle, certainly in the short term. Customers need it; retail and leisure operators need it. One such development is contactless temperature checking, which can screen customers and employees on arrival. This is gaining particular traction in the gym and fitness industry. With multiple gym operators entering into administration in recent weeks as a direct result of the pandemic, gyms are understandably placing confidence-inducing measures at the centre of their operations. This tactic is largely to retain memberships and fee income, while demonstrating that the health and wellbeing of their members is critical to a business’ survival.

The advancement of contactless technology, in lieu of developments in touchscreen applications, has been borne out of COVID-19. The solutions may be temporary. On the other hand, they may develop further as we see future markets emerge, such as the health and wellbeing of customers and employees. However, what they both do is provide retailers and leisure operators with options in a world that has suddenly closed many doors.

It’s clear that everything is evolving at an extreme rate. COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, and, as companies continue to reopen and assess what they need to do to remain viable, the self-service kiosk market has to step up to the plate, develop products quickly and try different approaches, in order to meet the changing needs of consumers – if not the world. 

The market is growing and will continue to be buoyant. As we emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic, many companies that are financially unstable will be looking at ways to cut operational overheads. Opening back up with fewer staff, means that self-service kiosks – touchscreen or otherwise – will become more important than ever before. Whether it’s virtual receptions, food ordering services, or payment terminals, businesses will be searching for solutions that maximise transaction conversion rates, improve customer journeys and reduce costs. 

It’s essential for brands to connect and communicate with employees and customers, but they need to find new ways of doing this safely. It’s by no means an underestimation that technology has a huge role to play.

Led by founders Neil Clark and Dean Ward, Evoke prides itself on creating bespoke solutions and providing an end-to-end service for customers, with design, software development and product assembly performed in-house to ensure quality is maintained. Evoke has been voted as one of the 50 fastest growing companies in the North at the Northern Tech Awards for the past five years.

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