Consumers Don’t Want to Talk to a Robot When Shopping

A new global study highlights huge disconnect between retailers and consumers, and the role of new technologies in the shopping experience.
January 18, 2019

NEW YORK CITY -- People do not want to speak with robots while shopping in-store or online according to a new study conducted by Oracle NetSuite in partnership with Wakefield Research and The Retail Doctor. The global study of U.S., U.K. and Australian consumers and retail executives found a huge disconnect between shopper demands and what retailers deliver in areas spanning the overall retail environment, social media, personalization and the use of advanced technologies such as chatbots, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR).

“These findings point to a clear and urgent need for better customer service,” said Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, in a press release. “No retailer wants their customers to be confused or anxious, yet more than half of respondents have felt that way while shopping. Customers will feel confident when they develop an emotional connection to the brand. This happens when retailers foster positive, helpful in-store interactions; contrary to popular belief, millennials want store employees to help them. With nearly every respondent reporting that they value brick-and-mortar stores, now is the time to craft every in-store interaction to keep shoppers coming back.”

Despite significant investments in enhancing the customer experience online and in-store, retailers are not able to keep up with rapidly changing customer expectations and this is creating a huge disconnect. Seventy-three percent of retail executives believe that the overall environment in retail stores has become more inviting in the past 5 years. Only 45% of consumers agree, with 19 percent stating it has become less inviting.

Eighty percent of retail executives believe that consumers would feel more welcome if in-store staff interacted with them more. Less than half (46%) of consumers agree, with 28% noting they would feel more annoyed.

Almost all (98%) retail executives think that engaging with customers on social media is important to building stronger relationships with them. Only 12% of consumers think it has a significant impact on the way they think or feel about a brand.

“Consumer expectations are not only rapidly changing, but exactly what expectations look like vary from person to person and moment to moment. This makes it incredibly hard for retailers to keep up,” said Matthew Rhodus, director of retail for Oracle NetSuite. “The results of this survey show that while the retail industry is often considered to be at the forefront of consumer experience innovation, there’s still a long way to go to meet shopper expectations. What this means is the opportunity for retailers to improve the relationship with consumers is tremendous.”