Retailers have been scrambling to bolster their tech to keep up with constant innovation. Retailers strive to offer consumers with a shopping experience more streamlined and cohesive than their competitors. However, a recent Harris Polls and Retail Brew study hints that robotic shopping assistants might not be the answer retailers anticipated.
Before the study, Retail Brew noted that robotic advancements like chatbots were the latest buzz in tech-enhanced retail. Chatbots, like ChatGPT, are software systems that use a branch of AI called Natural Language Processing to understand and respond to human language. For example, last year, Walmart launched "text to shop," an in-house chatbot that allows consumers to search for items and checkout via text message.
Meanwhile, the retail giant is also automating supplier procurement negotiations with the help of Pactum AI, whose chatbot negotiates with human suppliers on behalf of companies.
While all that sounds futuristic and accommodating, is that what consumers want? Retail Brew's study proves that while retailers have no problem picking up the new tech, consumers are not as thrilled.
According to the Harris Poll/Retail Brew survey of 2,080 US adults, when thinking about their shopping experiences, nearly half of Americans (45%) report engaging with a chat box or other AI technology when seeking out customer service. However, less than half of respondents (48%) agree that robots could improve in-person shopping.
However, most shoppers believe robots could improve food (57%) and non-food (62%) delivery services.
A similar 2021 Harris Poll/Retail Brew survey found that merely 30% of respondents said they want more technology integrated into their shopping experience, while a majority (57%) wanted less or for it to stay the same.
Flash forward to the present, in 2023, Americans believe robots are most useful in supply chain and fulfillment processes (31%), followed by delivery services (21%), customer service (11%), and purchasing products (10%). However, roughly a fifth (21%) believe robots would be useless anywhere in the shopping experience.
Furthermore, roughly a fifth of respondents (19%) report that they would be more likely to purchase from an establishment that uses robots, as opposed to 43% who report no effect on their likelihood of buying from such businesses, and 37% who would be less likely.
A slight majority of Americans surveyed (55%) report being worried about automation affecting jobs in retail, customer service (54%), delivery (52%), and supply chain/fulfillment (51%).
One of the most interesting figures from the survey is that 33% of employed respondents are worried about automation affecting their own jobs. According to the International Federation of Robotics, global installations of industrial robots grew 31% in 2021 year-on-year, while sales of service robots rose 37%, with the retail sector a significant driver of both.
Moreover, when taking a peak at the fashion industry, McKinsey expects fashion companies to double investment in technology from 1.6% to 1.8% of their revenue in 2021 to between 3.0% and 3.5% by 2030.
The report says those fashion brands which fully integrate digital processes could cut by half the time it takes to get a product to market. That, in turn, could lead to an 8% rise in full-price goods sales and a 20% drop in manufacturing costs.
It's no secret that retailers' widespread adoption of robotic assistants brings ethical questions to the forefront of consumers' minds. If innovation continues at this pace, the fear of losing physical retail jobs is not unfounded. Jobless retail workers and mounting consumer disinterest in robotic assistants in retail could halt the fast-paced adoption of robotic technology worldwide. However, money talks, and if corporations can cut costs and heighten efficiency, historically speaking, they will do it.
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