NEW YORK – Even before social distancing became an essential component of everyday life, consumers were turning to autonomous shopping technology to replace day-to-day tasks. For example: smart refrigerators are now capable of ordering and replenishing weekly groceries, allowing consumers to stay at home and out of the store, while online styling services purchase clothes for consumers based upon their previous preferences. But new research from Columbia Business School’s Gita V. Johar, Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business and Chazen Senior Scholar, finds that while autonomous shopping makes life easier, there are still key barriers preventing consumers from embracing this practice. Analyzing trends in psychology, sociology and marketing, Johar recommends that marketers portray autonomous technologies as human and individual-focused, a step that would help overcome psychological resistance and convince consumers to commit.
The new research, co-written with Emanuel de Bellis, consumer researcher at the University of Lausanne, finds that when autonomous technologies emphasize human control and hyper personalization in their marketing, consumers are more likely to embrace and trust these technologies. For example, retailers of Thermomix, an autonomous cooking appliance, emphasize the technology’s ability to provide consumers “more family time” and “things that turn into memories.” Through their research, Johar and de Bellis identify different Western and Eastern cultural hesitations towards adopting autonomous shopping technologies, focusing on human control, individualism, social connectedness, and culture. They conclude that Western consumers are more concerned that autonomous technologies take away their control of their own life; while Eastern consumers did not trust the autonomous technologies to fully account for their individuality. However, the researchers find that to break past these barriers and convince Eastern and Western consumers alike to embrace autonomous shopping, retailers should shape product branding around the individual consumer and emphasize human control in every aspect of marketing.
A societal shift toward autonomous technology would likely lead to cultural and policy changes, as the shift could reduce consumer financial risks by decreasing impulsive shopping and accentuating deliberate purchasing. However, the authors argue that policymakers will need to play a key role to ensure that future human-machine interactions are focused on the consumer’s needs and preferences, prioritizing consumer well-being.
The study, Autonomous Shopping Systems: Identifying and Overcoming Barriers to Consumer Adoption, is published in the Journal of Retailing.
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About the researcher
Gita V. Johar (PhD NYU 1993; MBA Indian Institute of Management Calcutta 1985) has been on the faculty of Columbia Business School since 1992 and is currently...Read more.