The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

No, I Don’t Want To Meet Your Chatbot

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NRF’s big show was great this year. It was a show based in practical applications for many of the technologies that – even just a year or two ago – were the whiz-bang kids on the block (here’s looking at you, AI).

I got to see real-deal demos of AI-powered workforce solutions that genuinely put workers where they are needed when they are needed most (Legion, Workday). I got to see right-now demos of AI-powered analytics that help retailers ensure the products they need to sell were where they need to be when they need to be there most (SAS, Blue Yonder). And I got to see a LOT of demos about how AI-empowered tools are making stores more interesting places for shoppers to actually want to visit (Jumpmind, Salesforce, Aptos, Shopify) – the most interesting of which was an AI-empowered fitting room solution from an Austin-based company called Crave Retail. If you haven’t heard of them, check out their solution. It’s beyond cool, it’s beyond practical, and it’s beyond overdue.

But while I managed to escape the show meeting only a handful of robots and just a singular hologram, I heard waaaay to much about glorious new chatbots. And this isn’t just me being a cranky Gen X consumer. This is a case of too many vendors banking on a fact that only they (and the retailers looking to save payroll dollars they are talking to) seem enamored of. Chatbots are the inevitable future.

Are they?

We decided to put the question to a test – and not in an overt way. We simply inserted a line or two of inquiry about chatbots into a recent survey of over 1,100 US-based shoppers, with no specific demographic requirement other than respondents be over 18 years of age. We simply provided a few options in a much larger question: what’s the one thing you would change about your very favorite retailer’s digital offering?

If  a picture is worth a thousand words, the photo evidence has been submitted. But let me drive something home: we gave these shoppers 9 choices to choose from. Not only was “get me to a damn person” the top choice, but “make your chatbot a little better” was dead-last.

Yes, when conditioned, over time, people can be conditioned to endure quite a bit. Ignoring their will on this one, however, seems to be at the user’s peril.

It’s time to pump the brakes on the chatbots.

Newsletter Articles February 14, 2024
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