Early in the pandemic, the touchscreen industry was skeptical that people would continue to use kiosks, self-checkouts, and interactive screens. Guidance from health safety officials warned that coronavirus could live on surfaces, and if people touched them and then touched their eyes or nose, they could become infected. However, consumers continued to use –and in some cases, increased their use – of touch solutions, and merchants began demanding them at an above-average rate.
Gene Halsey, VP of Product and Business Development for MicroTouch, shares his insights on why the touchscreen industry not only survived the pandemic but experienced increased demand since early 2020.
What impact did the pandemic have on the touchscreen industry?
Halsey: Putting hands on anything that could be contaminated spooked people for a few months, so the touchscreen industry poured money into new products, like antimicrobial screens or systems that responded when people’s fingers were near but didn’t touch a screen. Other solutions providers displayed QR codes that people could scan and interact with on their smartphones instead of the screen. Merchants also looked for solutions. Some businesses assigned an employee to disinfect kiosks between uses but realized the costs were prohibitive.
However, eventually, people found a simple solution: hand sanitizer. Just like after using a gas pump, visiting a post office or purchasing train tickets, they just cleaned their hands after using a kiosk. And when merchants realized consumers continued to use touchscreens, they moved forward with their plans to deploy them.
Have businesses found that touchscreen solutions have value in replacing human interaction?
Halsey: Although people became comfortable using touchscreens, we are still dealing with an airborne virus. Touchscreen solutions help restaurants, retailers and other merchants transition away from face-to-face interactions to simple digital transactions, for example, to order in a fast-food restaurant, browse inventory in a cannabis dispensary, or checkout in a grocery store, in socially distanced ways.
Moreover, we’re woefully short on workers, and we’re seeing an escalation of wages that we haven’t seen in a generation. Touchscreen solutions can effectively manage processes that don’t need a human element. Touchscreens allow businesses to deploy employees elsewhere, optimizing the use of labor while helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Have supply chain disruptions impacted the touchscreen industry?
Halsey: Yes, a few trends converged. There was constrained availability due to the pandemic. Then, after an initial pause in capital expending, there was an explosion of demand. Businesses realized they had an opportunity to make upgrades without disrupting normal operations – and everyone rushed back into the market. At the same time, the demand for consumer touchscreen devices also grew as people looked for things to do at home and had pandemic dollars in their pockets. Inventory was gone in a blip due to unleashed demand.
However, touchscreens are available. Look for vendors who have their own manufacturing capabilities and have a relatively steady supply chain. Vendors who use contract manufacturers, however, are struggling to fill orders – and in some cases have 6-month lead times or more. It will take quite a while for those vendors to resolve their issues.
What is the outlook for touchscreen solutions in the next few years?
Halsey: Moving toward self-service is a strong trend, and we’ll see it proliferate in new places – anywhere software developers can apply their imaginations. The key for ISVs is to see how they can automate simple transactions, and touchscreen solutions will find their way into new spaces.
Additionally, some solutions providers are leveraging consumers’ mobile devices for some processes, but the best experiences will still link back to a physical store or self-service. Developers seem to deal with one part of omnichannel experiences at a time. Mobile and kiosk experiences that are linked and provide experiences that are as consistent as possible will deliver the best experiences – and best outcomes for the ISV businesses that offer them.
We’re living in uncharted times when so many macro forces are impacting businesses in various ways. Touchscreen solutions can help companies meet a range of challenges and also deliver the convenience consumers want.