Chicken and Egg Problem: Retail Tech and Consumer Uptake

Use of retail chatbots remains low

November 1, 2017

Many retailers see investing in new technology as a must if they are to remain competitive, but consumers may not be ready to adopt new platforms and tools.

A study by IFTTT, a web-based data connectivity platform, surveyed US internet users to get a sense of which retail technologies they are comfortable with—and which they aren't.

Notably, and in line with other surveys focused on this holiday season, the study found widespread comfort with and adoption of digital shopping. Roughly two-thirds (67%) of respondents said they prefer to do at least half of their shopping online rather than in-store. And 37% said they like to shop digitally more during the holiday season than during the rest of the year.

The findings parallel a recent poll for the National Retail Federation (NRF) by Prosper Insights & Analytics showing that, for the first time in the survey’s history, online topped all brick-and-mortar destinations as the most popular channel where consumers planned to buy holiday items. In percentage terms, nearly 59% of respondents said they'll do at least some of this year's holiday shopping online, up from 56.5% in 2016.  

But the IFTTT study also uncovered consumer wariness (and a lack of awareness) of some key technologies many retailers have focused on, including chatbots. Less than 10% of respondents said they had used a retail chatbot, and more than one in five were unsure.

And when asked if they would trust a robot to do their shopping, almost 83% of those polled said no.

That lines up with data from the June 2017 UPS "Pulse of the Online Shopper" study, which found many consumers aren’t particularly keen on the idea of interacting with robots while shopping. More than half said they’d rather stick with humans.

This isn't stopping retailers from investing in the technology, however. A Forrester Research study earlier this year found that while just 6% of retail executives said their companies were currently using mobile chatbots, 31% planned to implement them within 12 months.