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Survey: Retail Robots May Be Driving Consumers Away

Although technology can be valuable in-store, a new survey suggests consumers still prefer the human touch.

Consumers in the U.S. overwhelmingly prefer to engage with in-store associates as opposed to robotic assistants, with 64 percent of those polled agreeing with this sentiment in a new survey conducted by Sensormatic Solutions, a Swiss retail solutions company run by Johnson Controls.

Of the 1,186 American consumers polled by the firm, only 5 percent said they preferred robot assistants, while another 30 percent answered they would rather interact with a retailer through their mobile app.

“There is a growing dialogue that technology will replace the need for face-to-face interactions and promote the [digitization] of everything, but that is not necessarily the case,” Bjoern Petersen, president at Sensormatic Solutions, said in a statement. “While there is no denying that technology and automation are helping businesses streamline processes and decision making, our survey proves that traditional customer engagement is alive and well.”

Although interacting with actual human beings still appears to be a requirement for the in-store retail experience, there are some times when consumers didn’t mind interfacing with a robot or a computer. Point-of-sale stations, for instance, are exceptionally popular with consumers and 55 percent said they either “always” or “usually” use self-checkout when making an in-store purchase.

In fact, the more a consumer shopped, the more likely they would be to use self-checkout. Of those who shop every day, 30 percent said they always use self-checkout—compared to just 17 percent for those who shop only a few times a week.

The power of BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) was also examined in Sensormatic Solutions’ survey, revealing that 40 percent of consumers use the service regularly, with another 15 percent saying they regularly use curbside pickup. What’s more, 31 percent said they frequently use BORIS, or “buy online, return in store.”

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However, a large portion of consumers (36 percent) don’t use either of the services. With more ground to be gained with BOPIS and similar technology-driven retail concepts, Petersen suggested that one reason to adopt BOPIS is so that associates can spend more time on the sales floor where their help remains valuable.

“One of the key benefits of adopting BOPIS is that it drives more in-store traffic and potentially higher sales,” he said. “That’s why inventory accuracy and availability is essential for today’s retailers.”

The data appears to agree with Petersen, as well. When asked if they would be more likely to make an impulse purchase after using one of the aforementioned omnichannel services, 55 percent said they would either be very or moderately likely to do so.