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Report: Technology Helps Consumers Shop, But Basic Frustrations Linger

By 2021, the vast majority of retail and CPG executives say they expect to be using “intelligent automation”—the combination of AI and automation technology—across most areas of their businesses.

And while consumers are open to the developments, there’s still room for growth, according to the NRF’s Consumer View 2019 report.

A whopping 80 percent of the executives surveyed said these technologies would impact supply chain and product design, along with customer acquisition and retention over the next two years. And for many brands and companies, the transition is well underway.

Consumers seem to be on board with these developments, with more than three out of five responding that innovative retail technologies have improved their overall shopping experience. The sentiment proved true across all channels, with 80 percent of online shoppers, 66 percent of in-store shoppers and 63 percent of mobile shoppers saying technological innovations have helped them.

Still, the path to purchase remains a bit rocky across all areas of retail. Consumers overwhelmingly agreed that product discovery was an issue, citing the beginning research stages as the most frustrating part of a shopping experience.

The process of looking up features and finding reviews about a product was unrivaled when it came to consumer frustration—37 percent said it was the worst part of the whole process, and 47 percent said they would be most interested in seeing technological innovations to help at this stage.

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Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of respondents said the moments before checkout, when they are checking pricing or availability, for example, were the most frustrating. And a quarter of consumers said this stage would be best helped by technology.

Many of retailers’ issues come down to providing shoppers with accurate and easily accessible information. Consumers use reviews and pricing to inform their purchase decisions in real time, and any barriers to finding those data points can cause consternation. According to the report’s analysis, shoppers want retailers to focus on improving their path to purchase by providing basic technologies that make decision-making easier.

While many brands and retailers across channels are focusing increasingly on advanced AI and VR experiences, the majority of consumers are looking for more basic information first.

Fifty-five percent said they wanted help finding out whether a product is available, 49 percent said they wanted help comparing prices or reviews, and 47 percent said they wanted help finding a product’s location at a retail. Only 36 percent of users said they were interested in technology adding fun or significant meaning to their shopping experience, while 33 percent said they were interested in technology aiding them to find new brands or products.

The fact that consumers are looking for simple fixes to shopping frustrations doesn’t mean they’re not interested in trying new technologies, though. If anything, it shows retailers have a long way to go in providing satisfaction when it comes to the basics.

Forty-three percent of consumers surveyed demonstrated awareness of voice assistant technology, social shopping was 34 percent, and 33 percent were aware of in-app store navigation. Of those who demonstrated awareness of those technologies, the vast majority said they’d be interested in using them again.

While things like virtual reality and augmented reality demonstrated limited consumer knowledge (both at 21 percent recognition), the vast majority of consumers who were acquainted with those concepts were interested in trying them, or using them again.

The data shows consumer awareness—not a lack of interest—is the only thing standing in the way of implementing these technologies with a wide margin of success.