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Nearly 100,000 businesses closed due to COVID-19 this year. Yelp Inc. (NYSE: YELP) reported 60% of its listings permanently shuttered.
Now, with a second wave of COVID-19 underway, businesses will again scramble for ways to avoid becoming a statistic.
The tech stock we have for you today is part of the solution.
We're talking an industry poised for 178% growth. It was valued at $2.8 billion in 2019. But Cision says it could hit $7.8 billion by 2027.
Thing is, you wouldn't know it. You interact with this item almost every day, yet you hardly think about it.
It might even be the most important item in your life right now. Why?
We're talking about a revolution in how shoppers pay for their goods. Shelves and self-checkout systems are getting so smart that, pretty soon, you won't even need to pull anything out of your pocket to leave the store.
Here's why this stock is on the move this holiday and beyond.
They Profit Every Time You Pay
COVID-19 has forced brick-and-mortar stores to come up with new, contact-free solutions for shopping. Along with masks and "6 feet apart" stickers on the floor, you may notice more glass dividing you and the cashier.
In some stores, you might notice longer waits at self-checkout. More people are using it. And where there aren't long self-checkout lines, some stores have increased the number of self-checkout kiosks.
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Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) began testing a model with fewer manned checkouts and more self-checkouts back in 2018. This year, a Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) location in Iowa opened a store with five self-checkouts and three traditional ones.
A Target spokesperson said one-third of the chain's customers prefer self-checkouts. Regardless of how you might feel about being your own cashier, that's enough for these retailers.
TalkBusiness.net reported that as many as 80% of U.S. shoppers had used self-checkout in 2018. According to GM Insights, the retail sector accounted for over 40% of self-checkout system market revenue share in 2019.
That number is likely significantly more in the year of COVID-19. But this trend was already underway, COVID or not. If anything, COVID only accelerated it.
The stock we're covering today plays a key role in that self-checkout process.
One of the best ways to take advantage of that is to look at the companies providing the software and hardware to make it possible. These are the companies that end up determining how people pay for their goods and services.
You're probably thinking "point of sale" (POS) systems. If we were just talking about checkout software, this might not be a conversation.
This shift is bigger than that.
You see, minimizing contact is only one thing on the digital transformation agenda. And that's going to require a lot more than a glass divider.
Stores are also concerned with reducing time at checkout, ensuring customers make it through happily and easily.
With customer experience factored in, this is also much bigger than COVID-19. It's more about a technological paradigm shift.
Here's the real trend changing the way you shop.
Artificial Intelligence and Your Purchases
Self-checkout might be a convenience for many. But it's also a hassle for many others.
In fact, people who don't like self-checkout probably hate it. You're not an employee, but you've somehow become a cashier by default.
You wouldn't be wrong to be frustrated. Introducing convenience brings its own set of complications.
Ever have a self-checkout kiosk freeze up on you? What about when you hit the wrong button and get this glaring prompt: "PLEASE CONTACT CASHIER FOR ASSISTANCE."
Sometimes, there's no cashier. Sometimes, the cashier can't even figure it out, and you're sitting there for 20 minutes waiting for the manager to finish his lunch break.
This is a layer of complexity the self-checkout world will attempt to fix in the years to come - which is also being accelerated in the digital transformation under COVID-19.
Stores want to make their self-checkout systems smarter. They want to make up for the human error of both customers and employees.
If nothing else, they at least don't want to crash so often.
One of the pioneers in this development is Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR). The grocery store chain has adopted visual artificial intelligence technology at 2,500 of its stores to "reduce self-checkout errors," according to RT Insights.
The company is rolling out technology from a company called Everseen, which observes customer checkout processes via video and learns about them along the way. Over time, it can spot irregularities in a checkout process and notify a customer of an error. These alerts also prevent loss to theft or negligence.
The benefit of this over current systems is that it will continuously improve. The more data it gets, the more it knows what to do. Everseen tracks 20 million people and 160 million SKUs daily around the world, and counting.
Ultimately, the customer experience as well as the company's loss prevention is improved. Everybody wins.
We should be ready to see companies like Everseen pop up over the next few years to serve a retail sector in need of solutions. Despite a boom in e-commerce, it seems like there will always be at least some need for brick-and-mortar solutions. For that, companies are looking for smarter, contact-free solutions.
But there is one tech company that's going to beat the rest in this transformation. Expect this to be a major contender for dominating electronic payments of all kinds...
The Stock Taking Everyone's Money
Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) has been the "King of Retail" for quite some time. It's easy to forget it is also transforming brick-and-mortar shopping. Just last week, Amazon opened its fourth high-tech grocery store location, called "Amazon Fresh." One feature includes the Amazon Dash Cart. It enables users to shop while signed into an app, be notified when near something on their shopping list, then pay instantly by leaving through the Dash Cart lane.
That's right. You can grab your items and walk right out the door. The technology keeps track of what you picked up and automatically charges your account when you leave.
Once again, Amazon is way ahead of the curve. Its e-commerce platform was a revolution, but brick-and-mortar retailers could still offer the in-person experience Amazon couldn't. With this new technology, Amazon just changed the game again.
The stores are all currently scattered across California. They're intended to provide an unprecedented, seamless shopping experience.
Ever do a few laps around a store in search of peanut butter? These stores have Alexa devices throughout, so you don't have to chase down an employee for directions.
Of course, customers who still prefer classic Amazon pick-up or delivery can have their needs met as well. This will come in the clutch if California sees further COVID-19 lockdowns.
The chain has plans on branching eastward to Illinois next.
It's also possible once Amazon perfects the technology it could license it to traditional retailers, collecting hefty fees in the process.
Amazon continues to show it's capable of innovating and growing, even at $1.5 trillion market cap.
The Amazon stock price crushed the $3,000 all-time ceiling this year, and it's not slowing down for 2021.
It's also appealing for a cloud contract won by Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) with the U.S. Department of Defense.
It's innovating in the streaming market - its latest streaming device, Fire TV Stick Lite, is said to be 50% more powerful than the last.
This is all in addition to its command of the e-commerce industry, with a 37% market share as of 2019.
With yet another revenue stream, this stock is poised for insane growth in the next year - and the next decade.
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About the Author
Mike Stenger, Associate Editor for Money Morning at Money Map Press, graduated from the Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University. He has combined his degree in Economics with an interest in emerging technologies by finding where tech and finance overlap. Today, he studies the cybersecurity sector, AI, streaming, and the Cloud.