Consumer interest in AI-driven shopping has surged, says IBM

An IBM study highlights a mismatch between current tech offerings and shopper expectations, signalling a wider impact of AI on the retail industry

A global study conducted by leading technology corporation IBM reveals a widening gap between shopper demands and current retail offerings.

Conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value, the study reveals that only 9% of respondents are currently satisfied with the in-store shopping experience. In fact, only 14% of respondents say the same for online shopping.

The retail sector is currently facing huge amounts of pressure from evolving customer expectations during a time of economic uncertainty. Likewise, with the transformative impact of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), IBM highlights how technology can work to improve the customer experience. 

Integrating AI into retail

As part of the consumer study ‘Revolutionise retail with AI everywhere: Customers won't wait’, nearly 20,000 global consumers were surveyed. It analyses customer preference and customer behaviour, revealing that consumers will often spend hours searching for the right products, comparing prices and assessing sustainability performance.

According to the findings, approximately 80% of the consumers surveyed who have not yet used AI for shopping expressed an interest in using the technology for various aspects of their shopping journey. 

Whilst IBM cites current consumer dissatisfaction with retail experiences, it also highlights how technology could play an important role in enhancing the overall shopping experience. More than half of the respondents indicated that they are eager for AI enhancements like virtual assistants (55%) and AI applications (59%) to assist them as they shop.

Consumers surveyed also want a greater variety of products available (37%), more information about products (26%), and faster checkout (26%) in stores. Most consumers surveyed (65%) by IBM are supplementing their in-store experience by using mobile apps while shopping, demonstrating a trend toward a digitally integrated in-store experience. 

In an increasingly digital world, AI is undoubtedly becoming integral to the retail industry to give business leaders greater insights. Last year (2023), fashion group Mango launched a conversational generative AI platform, Lisa, to assist employees and partners by making improvements to the development of collections, customer interactions and after-sales services.

Likewise, URBN, the parent company of Urban Outfitters, adopted AI technology within its merchandise planning platform to better meet customer demand.

Integrating advanced technologies into retail has the potential to really elevate the shopping experience for customers. IBM’s survey outlines actionable strategies to help retail businesses meet changing consumer demands in a digital age.

Impacted by economic uncertainty, AI interest piques

However, whilst two-thirds of consumers surveyed discover new products via the web, many have also expressed dissatisfaction with their online shopping journey. IBM reports that consumers have cited challenges in finding the products they want (36%), not enough information about products (33%), in addition to a cumbersome return process (33%).

This, combined with a clear interest in using AI technology to enhance shopping experiences, with 52% of consumers interested in receiving personalised information, advertisements and offerings from stores that are relevant to their specific interests.

During a time of economic uncertainty, challenges such as inflation are continuing to impact consumer shopping behaviours. Six in ten consumers surveyed by IBM say that inflation has impacted their shopping, with 62% stating that price is a top reason why they will switch stores or brands.

Consumers surveyed are seeking flexible payment options, with 55% desiring more varied payment options and 46% reporting they would like to pay for their purchase in instalments. As inflation and economic uncertainty pinch pocketbooks, 62% of consumers surveyed also say price is a top reason they would switch stores or brands.

“In the face of rapidly shifting consumer expectations and the stark realities of today's economic picture for households, the retail sector is presented with an ongoing challenge—and an unprecedented opportunity,” says Luq Niazi, Global Managing Director at IBM. 

“The IBM IBV Consumer 2024 Study underscores an opportunity for retailers to integrate AI and other technologies into both digital and physical shopping experiences to meet these changing consumer demands and their economic challenges. Leveraging advances in AI technologies, retailers can forge ahead into a new era of commerce and fulfilment, leading with innovation to create shopping experiences that are intuitive, unified, personalised and efficient.”

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