SubSummit Special Edition: The loneliest AI

Chatbots hold great promise for retailers—but what do consumers think?

Note: we are excited to partner with the SubSummit 2021 conference to sponsor the annual pitch competition. Participants in the competition were asked to submit questions for our next BOXpoll survey. The content that follows is based on the questions asked by competition finalists. Attend the event or tune in on Tuesday, September 21 to see the finalists compete for the title.

While virtual assistants living inside speakers get all the glory (and some ire) these days, they aren’t alone in the universe of consumer-facing AIs. Chatbots have grown in popularity as retailers and other consumer industries seek to reduce the cost of customer service calls by automating responses to frequent questions or issues. The more human the chatbot, the thinking goes, the more the customer experience remains friendly and frictionless.

But how well have consumers adopted this move towards virtual customer engagement agents? According to our latest BOXpoll survey, we found there’s still some ground to make up before gaining critical mass acceptance.

  • Nearly half of consumers say they have used chatbot in the last 3 months, and almost a third say they use chatbots multiple times per month—so usage is reaching critical mass, perhaps only limited by retailers’ adoption of chatbot technologies
    • In a classic reaffirmation of gender-specific communications styles, men are more likely to report that they have used a chatbot in the last 3 months and more likely to say they use chatbots frequently than women (a 7pp difference for both).
    • As one would expect, younger consumers prefer chatbots, with more than half of Gen Z and Millennials reporting using chatbots frequently, and nearly half report using them frequently. Older consumers (Gen X and Boomers) are significantly less likely to use chatbots frequently.
    • Interestingly, more affluent consumers (those making >$100k per year) are much more likely to use chatbots (62% vs 45-47% others).
    • Urban consumers are nearly twice as likely to use chatbots frequently versus others (40% vs 24% others).
  • Beyond usage—what about utility? Do consumers see chatbots as providing more value than traditional customer engagement channels?
    • About a third of consumers overall say they prefer chatbots to calling customer service, chatting with a live person, or hunting and pecking for answers on a retailer’s website. 
    • More than half of Gen Z (60%) and Millennials (54%) prefer using a chatbot over calling customer service. That’s significantly higher than Gen X (35%) and Boomers (21%).
    • Same with higher income consumers, about half of whom prefer using chatbots to calling customer service (51% vs 35-37% of others).
  • All that said, the eye-watering finding is that the largest proportion of consumers in our survey—i.e., more than 2 out of 3 consumers go out of their way to avoid chatbots when shopping online, and more than half find chatbots distracting while shopping. 
    • We noted above men try chatbots more often than women, but men also dislike chatbots more than women: 70% of men say they avoid chatbots, which is 12pp more than women. 
    • In fact, women were the only demographic group in our analysis (below) where less than half of respondents (48%) said that chatbots were distracting. 
    • 62% (+9% from adults) of high-income group and 57% (+4% from adults) of urban dwellers feel that chatbots distract them from shopping online.

Seems we have a way to go before chatbots are as accepted as our smart speakers.

BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed August 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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