The Covid
Effect?

Covid had less of an impact on consumer comfort levels than might be expected. While a few technologies saw a bump (hotel check-in kiosks jumped more than 10 spots and order-online curbside pick-up moved into the #2 spot), other pandemic-friendly tech solutions, such as cashierless shopping and package delivery drones, stayed more or less the same. Some technologies, like retail-friendly robots, even saw significant drops in comfort, indicating that consumers may be feeling a tech burnout or be longing for human interaction in certain circumstances— even if it means a slightly less efficient experience.

Will cashierless become the norm?

Cashierless checkouts are dominating media cycles, but flashy tech coverage doesn’t automatically equate to happy consumer adoption. Based on our data, before the two most commonly seen variations of the technology can go fully mainstream, vendors need to iron out the experience.

Whether opting for a swipe-and-go solution (scan an app to enter the store, grab what you want, and walk out) or a self-scan option (scan items as you shop using a smart cart or handheld scanner), consumers are primarily motivated by ease of use and convenience. Even in the Covid-era, what matters most to people is whether or not the tech makes a material difference in their shopping experience.

The data suggests that people have had extremely mixed experiences with these technologies so far. Those that only used it a few times (less than 5) cite finding it ”confusing”, “frustrating”, and “annoying”, whereas those who continued to use the technology (5 times or more) find it “useful” and “simple”, and generally describe feeling “satisfied” by it. Interestingly, even those that have been frustrated by cashierless experiences are inclined to try them again. Consumers see the value in an efficient, easy checkout option, meaning these solutions are well worth testing out.

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Easy
Does It

A recurring theme among almost all of the technologies we surveyed was the importance of convenience and ease of use. Consumers want to know: Does this technology make my life better? Or will using it cause me more trouble than it’s worth? Concerns around Covid, around privacy, around cost— all of these can be overcome if the solution on offer is easy to use and makes accomplishing a task faster or better in some way. The tough part is understanding where the tipping point is.

Are the drones coming?

Delivery drones are an increasingly interesting option for brands looking to meet the growing demand for ultra-fast fulfillment. Efficient and extremely well-suited to the challenges of last-mile delivery, they seem perfect for a retailer wanting to keep pace with consumer demand. But while consumers want fast delivery of their items, they aren’t at all sure they want it in the form of a drone.

The top two impressions consumers have of package delivery drones are “invasive” and “unsettling”, coming in at 29.5% and 29.1% respectively. But “useful” secured the #3 spot, notching a 26.4% response rate— not far off pace.

Consumers are wary of delivery drones, and privacy and security concerns are high. But consumers also appreciate their utility without needing to experience the tech first-hand, and those who have tried it describe it as “useful” and “efficient” ahead of the other more negative impressions. Evidently, to know a package delivery drone is to love it.

Lack of exposure is playing a major part in consumer reluctance, but as the technology becomes more affordable to implement — and therefore more readily available — expect consumer sentiment to climb.

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Are AI-powered shopping experiences taking over?

Expectations of AR and conversational experiences have soared in recent years, helped along by steady media coverage about what advances in these areas could mean. But that coverage, combined with shaky early examples of the tech in-market, created a schism in consumer perception that may be tricky for brands to navigate moving forward. The key will be showcasing how easy and effective these technologies are through first-hand use.

Customer service chatbots are on the cusp of mainstream usage, but they’re not there yet. People who have never used them or only used them once view these chatbots as “annoying”, “confusing”, and “unnecessary”. By contrast, people who have used them two or more times are largely positive about the experience— 70% of those respondents describe the tech as “useful” and just shy of 60% of them describe it as “simple”. The data suggests glitchy early experiences set a narrative that’s proving challenging to move beyond.

Even as chatbot technology has improved and the experiences have started to live up to the promise of a superior option that streamlines activities, consumers are unconvinced... until they try them again. The key, then, is encouraging people to give them another go.

One third of respondents cited ease of use as a key motivator for future use, so focusing on simple activation methods, clear communication throughout the experience, and a seamless hand-off to a human agent when necessary can help ensure that when someone does test the waters, they’ll come away from the experience ready to try it again even if it’s imperfect.

Brands know the benefits of chatbots: efficient handling of customer challenges in the moment, and better data to help head off challenges before they occur over time. Customers, especially those who haven’t been exposed to the technology recently, will need reassurances that this experience can be easy and effective for them, too.

AR shopping faces similar challenges: it’s perceived as “unnecessary” and “confusing” by over 90% of respondents who have never used the technology, but for those who have used it the tech is seen as “useful”, “simple”, and “efficient”. Media coverage, at least, has been kinder to AR shopping, but the experience itself still leaves consumers with mixed feelings.

Even people who have used this technology 10+ times describe it as “unsettling” in high numbers, but the data shows that the majority of them (66%) are still interested in using the technology again. The utility of it—a service that makes shopping at home easier and more reliable—can overcome the uncanny nature of the tech. Brands can take advantage of
a feeling of empowerment enabled by this tech, but to get there the initial steps to trying it out need to be straightforward and simple.

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Are we finally ready for a digital-first future?

As noted earlier, ease and convenience can overcome even privacy and security concerns in the right circumstances, and loyalty apps and mobile wallets are proof of that. Consumers still express a fair amount of hesitation relating to privacy and security, especially when it comes to mobile wallets, but people who have taken the plunge recognize the benefits immediately.

Privacy and security concerns are important: 43% of respondents say it’s a factor in their decision to use the technology and that number jumps to 83% among people who haven’t used the technology before. Still, that same subset of never-users are also swayed by ease of use (44%) and convenience (34%), and those numbers indicate an opportunity for inroads.

If brands can leverage the ease and convenience aspects of their offerings to encourage consumers to try the tech, there’s every indication it will lead to long-term success. Both loyalty apps and mobile wallets show a lot of stickiness— once consumers try them, they seem to adapt to and adopt them quickly.

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The Great
Unknown

Some of the most impactful technologies of the future are largely unknown or invisible to consumers today. Cashierless experiences are recognized, but geo-fencing and in-store facial recognition — the two technologies those experiences often rely on — are either poorly understood, not identified as in-use, or both. Consumer buy-in for what these technologies can enable will catalyze a shift across entire categories, creating a sea-change in adoption and acceptance, but not without their knowledge and understanding first.

Nearly 20% of respondents didn’t know if they had interacted with geo-fencing before, and almost 30% of respondents weren’t sure if they had interacted with in-store facial recognition technology. Those numbers are a problem for brands looking to take advantage of the experiences these technologies can enable, because a lack of understanding leads to extremely low comfort rankings with consumers. In our 75-technology ranking, they came in at 67th (geo-fencing) and 73rd (in-store facial recognition).

Again, privacy and security concerns are the most significant factor in people’s willingness to use these technologies. In-store facial recognition had a whopping 58% of respondents citing it as an influencing factor, and privacy and security were also the number one influence people identified on whether or not they’d elect to use geo-fencing, with 46% of respondents citing it as a concern.

Even among respondents who had used the technology before, feelings were mixed. Of those that have interacted with geo-fencing, for instance, they’re as likely to say they felt “connected” and “empowered” by it as they are to say they felt “annoyed”, and answer that the technology is “invasive” at nearly the same rate they say it’s “useful”. Ambivalence and uncertainty about these technologies speak to a need to educate consumers on not only what the technology is, but also on what it offers them in terms of improved experience and convenience.

What Next?

With so much change in the world of commerce & retail, asking “What next?” almost feels like tempting fate. No one could have predicted the last year-and-a-half; how can we possibly expect to predict the next one, or five, or ten? But even with the uncertainty and upheaval, the data shows clear opportunity spaces for organizations ready to make smart investments now.

Despite the upheaval and added stress face-to-face interactions brought over the past 18 months, Covid concerns are not a primary motivating factor for most consumers when deciding to try out or adopt new technologies. What matters most is whether or not the perceived trade-offs — like allowing a company access to some of your data — outweigh the costs. If an application is easy to use and offers real value, consumers are ready to give it a try.

Cashierless checkouts, mobile wallets and loyalty apps, and AI-powered consumer experiences like chatbots and AR shopping apps are on the cusp of mass adoption, but hesitations linger. Managing consumer expectations for the experiences and most importantly, building in failsafes for a seamless handoff in the event of a problem, are crucial to bolstering consumer confidence in these technologies.

With less-established technologies that rely on a heavier dose of trust, increased education about the value they provide and finding the specific points in a customer journey when that additional bit of efficiency will make all the difference are going to be the factors to success. There are millions of moments of interaction a brand has with its customers each day. Optimizing those moments when and where it matters most is one of the biggest challenges — and greatest opportunities — they face.

To learn more about the Robots Among Us survey methods or report, or to discuss how Myplanet’s data-first approach can help your organization prepare for today, tomorrow, and whatever the future holds, reach out to one of our team members today: sales@myplanet.com.

Methodology

U.S. respondents aged 18+ completed a series of surveys using Google Consumer Surveys in July, August, and September 2021, on websites in the Google Surveys Publisher Network. The survey presents participants with a series of images and a short description of various forms of interactive technology, and asks them to rank on a five-point scale how strongly they disagree or agree with the statement: “I feel comfortable interacting with this technology”. For the 10 highlighted deep-dive technologies, five additional questions were asked relating to usage and overall impressions:

  • How frequently have you encountered or interacted with this
    technology?
  • What is your overall impression of this technology?
  • How did or would using the technology make you feel?
  • Would you choose to use this technology if you were given the
    option?
  • What would influence your decision to use this technology?

Insights were drawn from responses that have been weighted for age, gender and location to more closely represent the population and remove bias from the survey sample.

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