Consumer Adoption of Retail Automation Surges While Robot Cooks Face Resistance in Restaurants

As escalating expenses chip away at profit margins, both retailers and restaurants are turning to automation technology to bolster their operations. According to Software Advice’s 2024 Automated Customer Experience Survey, which polled over 2,000 consumers worldwide, automation is warmly welcomed for tasks like self-checkout and product location assistance in stores. However, there are reservations regarding automation in areas such as food preparation, cleaning, and security.

The survey highlights that a significant 72% of consumers are already regular users of automated technologies like self-checkout, curbside pickup, and contactless payment. Yet, less than half have encountered cutting-edge retail innovations like AI-driven cashierless checkout and augmented reality try-on tools. Consumers appreciate the speed and convenience automation brings to in-store shopping and restaurant ordering, indicating a readiness for further integration.

The survey identifies three key consumer automation trends to inform businesses’ implementation strategies:

Trend #1: Demand for Speed and Efficiency

Modern consumers prioritize efficiency during in-store visits. A substantial 73% of global consumers aim to expedite their grocery shopping trips, with 52% expressing similar sentiments for other retail outings. Consequently, consumers gravitate towards technologies that streamline transactions. For instance, self-checkout is preferred over staffed checkout for smaller purchases or when time is limited. However, there’s a notable decline in satisfaction with self-checkout as age increases, emphasizing the importance of inclusive experiences. Nearly a third of users encountered issues or delays during their last self-checkout experience.

In the realm of dining, close to half of diners (49%) express willingness to utilize AI tools, like chatbots or drive-thru interfaces, to order food. These technologies offer personalized recommendations based on customer preferences and past orders, potentially reducing order times.

Trend #2: Emphasis on Autonomy and Privacy

Consumers increasingly rely on technology for information that was previously sought from human store associates. Many shoppers now conduct online research prior to visiting physical stores and frequently compare prices and read reviews using their smartphones while shopping. While technology enhances efficiency and safety in-store, concerns about data privacy persist, especially with the proliferation of AI-equipped security cameras.

Trend #3: Recognition of Human Value

Consumers acknowledge the irreplaceable role of humans in providing personalized service, empathy, and maintaining safety. Only a third of global consumers find it acceptable for businesses to rely solely on automation for personalized recommendations or store security. Similarly, there’s reluctance to fully automate returns, exchanges, and refunds. Customers value human-centered service in restaurants, with a majority (67%) emphasizing its importance. Additionally, automated food preparation is largely deemed unacceptable in both quick-service and table-service restaurants, although there’s a slight openness to robot servers in quick-service establishments.

The comprehensive report provides further insights, expert analysis, and recommendations to guide businesses in automating functions without alienating customers.

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