Are Retailers Disconnected With What Shoppers Really Want?

In a Fast Company article I read recently, the writer was expressing her frustration with the Amazon Echo. When she asked it to play the news, she was connected to a ’90s hit music station instead, and at six a.m. in the morning, she was in no mood to listen to “Livin’ La Vida Loca” or “Thong Song.”

“It’s humiliating enough having technical difficulties in the privacy of my own kitchen,” the writer quips. “I would rather avoid such experiences in public, too, thank you very much.”

I was surprised to learn that so many other folks felt that way. But as the writer points out, a study by Oracle indicates that 95% of consumers don’t want to talk to a robot when they are shopping online or in brick-and-mortar stores. Furthermore, 86% have no desire for other shiny new technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

The study, which undertook to survey 1,200 consumers and 400 retail executives across the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, discovered that there is a huge disconnect between what consumers actually want and what the retail industry thinks they want.

Why the Disconnect Between Retailers & Consumers?

Apparently, retail executives get pretty excited about any new in-store technology being released, like robot mannequins that can scale to a consumer’s exact size so that it can try on clothes on their behalf. But they fail to find out if such technology is a desirable and functional fit for customers.

Can you blame consumers for being wary of in-store technologies that promise to make the shopping experience better but, instead, add unnecessary complications? Take, for example, the brands that were boasting about their high-tech smart mirrors a few years ago. These mirrors allowed customers to shop from inside the changing rooms. As it turns out, they didn’t want to learn how to use the smart mirrors, and it was easier to just speak to a live store assistant.

Nevertheless, retail executives continue to get excited over new in-store tech, even though their customers aren’t showing the same—if any—enthusiasm for them. In fact, most retail executives believe that AI and VR will increase foot traffic and sales, while 48% of shoppers say these technologies will have zero impact on whether they visit a store, and only 14% say they will make a purchase because of these technologies.

The same is true of online tech like chatbots. About 79% of retail executives are confident that chatbots are meeting shopper’s needs through on-demand customer service. Meanwhile, 66% of consumers disagree, with many survey respondents indicating that chatbots damage the shopping experience more than they help.

As nearly 75% of retail executives continue to believe that the overall environment in retail stores has grown more inviting over the past five years, less than 50% of consumers would agree. Sadly, 19% of consumers believe that stores have become less inviting.

So what happens when retail executives aren’t on the same page as shoppers?

We’ve all been watching it happen as, over the past few years, thousands of stores have closed their doors, malls have turned into graveyards, and many large companies have been forced into bankruptcy.

“Technology for technology’s sake has never been cool,” says Fast Company. ” . . . especially not now that our homes are packed full of computers, smart devices, and personal assistants. We go to stores because we want to dip our toes back into the real world, not the virtual one.”

And because e-commerce, has changed the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, eliminating the need to head to the store to physically browse or pick up products, retailers must turn their brick and mortar stores into something truly unique and exceptional.

That means specializing in the things consumers can’t get online or from in-store tech, like providing an amazing ambiance, offering human expertise, and maybe a cozy seating area and a refreshing beverage, so shoppers can discover new products in the most convenient, comfortable and enjoyable way possible.

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.