Why AI Can’t Take Over Shopping (Yet)

Why AI Can’t Take Over Shopping (Yet)
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By Jacquelyn Ethredge, Director of Insight & Strategy at The Integer Group®

Finding a lack of preexisting research, The Integer Group has undertaken an extensive consumer and shopper study in the U.S. to understand how shoppers feel about using AI today and how they expect to use it to shop in the future.

In our study, Embracing the Machines: AI’s Collision With Commerce, we explored shoppers’ awareness, acceptance, and perceptions of AI today and how they felt these things would change over time. What we found was a significant gap in how shoppers use AI today and how far they say they’ll let it go in the future. This is the AI opportunity gap for brands and retailers.

To understand the opportunity, first consider where most shoppers are with AI use and adoption today: the algorithms of Artificial Intelligence are humming along in the background of many shopping experiences, yet most shoppers are oblivious. Shoppers might be clicking product suggestions and songs picked for them, but they aren’t really aware they’re actually interacting with Artificial Intelligence in this process. For instance, 35% of people in our survey were not sure that online suggestions use Artificial Intelligence. In addition, when shoppers are intentionally interacting with AI through a personal device like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, they are just scratching the surface. Most of them ask their devices to to select music (68%) followed by adding an item to a shopping list (56%).

People want to keep ultimate control of purchase decisions; only 20% say they would actually give AI proactive decision-making power.

But shoppers are open to doing a whole lot more with AI in the near future, giving it much more power in their lives.

  • 78% of shoppers are curious about using AI to shop and about what AI can do for them
  • 50% of shoppers say they think they’ll feel more optimistic about using AI to shop five years from now
  • Shoppers see themselves enlisting AI’s help to find deals (79%), make a shopping list (67%), and provide recommendations (47%)
  • 55% of Millennials and 47% of Gen Xers said they would let AI stop them from ordering something that put them over their monthly budgets
  • And, across the board, shoppers expect to have a greater relationship with AI in five years: they project that in the future they will come to see AI as a foodie or personal chef (42%), a coach (38%), or even as a family member or friend (33%)

But shoppers said they’ll only let AI go so far. People want to keep ultimate control of purchase decisions; only 20% say they would actually give AI proactive decision-making power. In short, they expect to be doing much more shopping through AI, but they also want it to have an off button.

Brands, retailers, and technology companies can find ways to capitalize on this gap of where we are today up to the edge of how far shoppers will let AI go. So what could companies do to play in this opportunity gap? We have a few recommendations:

  1. Think value-first: Brands and retailers today are bringing shoppers inspiration and content curation. But shoppers really want AI to show them the best value. 78% said saving money is the key benefit to using AI, and 74% want AI to find them the best deals. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they want the cheapest thing out there. Everyone’s value equation is unique. Brands and retailers looking to innovate in AI-based solutions should develop AI that can search products by a shopper’s individual value equation—a mix of price, shopping experience, value, and time—that is personalized to them, to the category, or item type.
  2. Start small with AI automation: In our study, we found that not all shopping is created equal. Respondents were more open to letting AI make shopping decisions for them in categories where they don’t enjoy shopping, such as for common household items. In fact, 52% of Amazon shoppers are open to letting AI make decisions and purchases for them in the household goods category. One way for Artificial Intelligence to start to have a role in the decision-making part of shopping is if the decision is a small or a chore transaction for shoppers.
  3. Build trust by getting it right—and building a smarter search function: Today, intelligent assistants are only so helpful. Their ability to be useful is pretty basic, so when shoppers ask, AI often doesn’t give reliable answers: “She’s (Siri) is kind of stupid…A lot of her response is, ‘I’m actually not equipped to do that’…She won’t respond to a lot of things I say. She’ll say, ‘I don’t know how to do that right now’…it’s really annoying.” – Sheena P., 30Right now, shoppers couldn’t outsource shopping to AI if they wanted to because of accuracy issues and search limitations. Shoppers first have to research and decide what they want, then they can leverage AI to find it for them by articulating/writing what they are looking for. According to Bob Moesta, President & CEO of the Re-Wired Group, “When shoppers don’t know how to articulate what they’re looking for is when AI is going to fall down.”So accuracy and search innovation will be important. 83% of our survey respondents expect to interact with AI through voice search in the future. However, retailers such as Target and Home Depot are paving the way to make search easier and bring more accurate results to shoppers through visual search. Visual search allows shoppers to take a picture of an item, and, through AI, be directed to buy that item or similar items online. To make AI a true solution, brands, device manufacturers, and retailers will need to find ways to expand the way search works and remove friction and mistakes from the equation.

AI has been integrated into shopping in ways people haven’t fully realized, and we’ve only just begun to proactively and intentionally use it. As we head into a future fueled by data and powered by AI, there is a gap between what shoppers are currently using AI for and what they say they’ll let it do. Brands and retailers looking to innovate with AI should take action to be a part of the change that’s coming to the future of shopping by providing value that is customized to shoppers, targeting chore transactions and improving search experience and accuracy.

For more information and to download The Integer Group’s white paper series of research findings from the Embracing the Machines: AI’s Collision with Commerce study, go to integer.com/artificialintelligence and shopperculture.com.

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