Consumers Embrace Retail Automation, Reject Restaurant Robot Cooks

Software Advice’s 2024 Automated Customer Experience Survey finds consumers demand speed and technology while shopping yet reject automation at multiple touch points.

AUSTIN, Texas–(BUSINESS WIRE)–As rising costs continue to cut into profit margins, retailers and restaurants are implementing automation technology to grow their business. Software Advice’s 2024 Automated Customer Experience Survey of over 2,000 global consumers, found that consumers rate automation most acceptable for self-checkout and help locating products in stores, but do have concerns when it comes to food preparation, cleaning, and security.

A majority (72%) of consumers are already loyal users of automated technologies such as self-checkout, curbside pickup, and contactless payment. Yet fewer than half have experienced the most cutting-edge retail technologies such as AI-enabled cashierless checkout and augmented reality try-on tools. Consumers believe automated tech has brought speed and convenience to in-store shopping and restaurant ordering, and many are ready for more to be introduced.

Software Advice’s survey identifies three consumer automation trends to help businesses with implementation strategies:

Trend #1: Consumers want more speed and efficiency

Today’s consumers are in a rush when they shop in-store. Nearly a quarter (73%) of global consumers want to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible, and 52% say the same of other retail stores.

To that end, most consumers use technology that speeds up transactions. For example, most consumers prefer self-checkout to staffed checkout when they have under 20 items, need to make a purchase quickly, or want to avoid a time-consuming conversation. However, this tech isn’t a cure-all for customers in a time crunch—the overall experience rating with self-checkout declines significantly with an increase in age, suggesting that stores can’t eliminate human assistance if they want to be inclusive. Close to a third (29%) of users experienced an issue or delay the last time they used the technology.

At restaurants, nearly half (49%) of diners say they’re likely to order food through an artificial intelligence tool, such as a chatbot or drive-thru, both of which have the potential to reduce time taken to order by serving customers personalized recommendations based on preferences and past orders.

Trend #2: Today’s customer values autonomy and privacy

Consumers now rely on technology to get information they would have had to seek out from human store associates in the recent past. Today, most consumers rarely seek out interaction with retail employees and often have already researched online what they want to purchase prior to leaving their houses. When shopping in physical stores, 62% of global consumers pull out their smartphones to compare online prices to what they see on shelves and browse product reviews.

Consumers believe technology makes their in-store shopping experiences more efficient and safer but are concerned about how that technology may use and protect their personal data.

With the recent expansion of AI-equipped security cameras at self-checkout kiosks, many customers are aware that their purchases, and their likenesses, are never truly private, even when they scan and bag their own items.

Trend #3: Humans are irreplaceable for personalization, empathy, and safety

Only 33% of global consumers think it’s acceptable for businesses to exclusively use automated tech to deliver personalized recommendations. Fewer still think it’s okay for businesses to fully automate store security. Only a slightly higher figure, 35% say it’s okay for businesses to fully automate returns, exchanges, and refunds. Customers don’t find it acceptable for stores to rely on robots and software to handle complex problem-solving tasks, or tasks that keep people and spaces clean and safe.

Most consumers (67%) say human-centered customer service at restaurants is very important, while 31% say the same of retail and grocery stores. Over half (55%) of global consumers say automated food preparation is unacceptable for both quick service and table service restaurants. Some diners are more open to robot servers at quick service restaurants (30%) and table service (10%) but are still in the minority.

The full report offers additional findings, expert analysis, and recommendations to help automate functions without alienating customers.

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Evan Mimms

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