A large majority of shoppers recently surveyed by HRC Retail Advisory said they prefer in-store technology when they need customer service rather than personal help from employees, according to a release from the firm.
About 85% of those surveyed said they like to check prices at scanners instead of asking employees. Also, 76% of participants said having an in-store app available to help make personal recommendations was important to them.
The online survey of 2,903 U.S. and Canadian shoppers ages 10 to 73 was done Feb. 20 through March 7. Those between 10 and 17 were asked to participate via their parents.
Grocery retailers that pride themselves on customer service — including Publix and Wegmans, which receive a lot of accolades for their efforts — might be disappointed by these survey results. Any company investing time and money to beef up its in-store experience with prompt, friendly and helpful associates won't want to hear that most consumers would rather be left alone.
Some of this attitude might come from previous frustration at finding a prompt, friendly and helpful store associate, but some of it might simply be driven by convenience and the desire to hurry through shopping and get out the door. It's also possible that shoppers who go to large supermarkets are more familiar with technology and are interested more in speeding through self-checkout kiosks rather than having the more personalized experience of a smaller store.
Another recent survey underscored consumers' desire for high-tech convenience, finding that nearly half of shoppers think grocers are stuck in the past and need to modernize. That survey, commissioned by refrigeration firm Phononic, indicated people want a more up-to-date and tech-savvy grocery store that makes shopping more efficient.
For smaller, lower-tech retailers, it's hard to know what to do. Staff up and risk alienating tech-preferring shoppers? Or invest in gadgets and make some customers wonder where the personalized experience went? One solution won't work for everyone, Some shoppers might conclude it makes more sense to stay home, order online and pick up the groceries — or have them delivered. And some might decide to shop at a competing grocery store instead.
Some smaller regional stores are taking steps to increase their tech offerings. Twin Cities-based Kowalski’s Markets recently announced it is making a skip-checkout app available through digital provider GrocerKey. Texas-based Brookshire Brothers has branched out into online shopping through tech startup Rosie.
Given these recent survey results and the latest statistics — 70% of U.S. consumers say they plan to buy groceries online over the next few years, according to Nielsen and the Food Marketing Institute — more technology will show up in stores of all kinds and sizes as the trend becomes standardized across the industry.
However, this doesn't mean that all groceries need to invest in employee-replacing technology or try to be the next Amazon Go. A recent study found that two-thirds of millennials found store employees extremely important, while baby boomers were the most likely to feel that they were less necessary. And while technology can help speed up checkout or assist in verifying prices, some of the newer grocery jobs — like store dietitians or produce managers — exist solely to increase customer service and are not likely to be replaced with technology anytime soon.