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Personalization is all the rage these days, identified by brand marketers as their most exciting trend of the year. But certain more advanced forms of retail personalization seem a step too far for consumers despite some evolution in their attitudes, according to RichRelevance’s 4th annual “Creepy or Cool” survey.

The study identified 8 personalization innovations, asking more than 1,000 US adults to rate their feelings about them as “cool,” “creepy,” or “indifferent.”

Consumers Are Generally OK With Robot Guidance on Inventory

Among the 8 innovations, only 2 were rated by more respondents as “cool” than “creepy.” Those were:

  • Robots guiding shoppers to specific products within store aisles upon request: 48% finding this “cool” against 32% believing it to be “creepy;” and
  • Using fingerprint scanning to pay for items and get automatic home delivery, all from the store floor: 46% finding this “cool” versus 31% believing it “creepy.”

Compared to last year’s survey, more respondents this year are “cool” with the idea of robots guiding shoppers to specific products within store aisles (48% this year versus 40% last year), but attitudes towards the use of fingerprint scanning have remained largely stagnant.

The Jury’s Still Out on Augmented Reality-Based Recommendations

One innovation that engenders mixed feelings is an augmented reality app that allows the shopper to view products in a store and then displays associated information and recommendations, including whether the shopper needs to replenish what they have at home.

Respondents were as likely to consider this “creepy” (36%) as “cool” (35%), with the remainder indifferent to this concept.

AI-Powered Services Lean Creepy

Consumers generally have a more positive (33%) than negative (28%) view of artificial intelligence, per the report, though they seem less enthused than in other research on the topic.

But when it comes to personalization, consumers aren’t quite as on board. In fact, when RichRelevance described a form of personalization that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to provide a more personal experience by determining what products and services are most relevant and predicting what will appeal most to the shopper, the majority (56%) of respondents said this was not valuable to them.

The “creepy” or “cool” portion of the study largely arrived at similar findings. More respondents, for example, find it “creepy” (41%) than “cool” (32%) that voice assistants within their home provide personalized product information and suggested products for them and their family. Similarly, more see it as “creepy” (41%) than “cool” (27%) that computer programs such as chatbots use AI to help them answer customer service questions, rather than a real person.

That’s interesting in light of new research suggesting that chatbots hold appeal with consumers, many of whom have already interacted with them for customer service reasons. Still, prior survey data has shown that 71% of adults in the US would prefer to interact with a human than with a chatbot or other automated process.

These Tactics Are Mostly Considered Creepy

Unlike the above innovations, some forms of retail personalization are overwhelmingly deemed “creepy” by consumers.

These are:

  • Facial recognition technology identifying the respondent as a loyal customer as soon as they enter and relaying their preferences to the salesperson in-store: 24% “cool” versus 61% “creepy;”
  • Companies understanding the respondent’s shopping habits so well that they are able to use artificial intelligence/data to choose and automatically order products on their behalf: 14% “cool” versus 69% “creepy;” and
  • Clothing and wearables include sensors/tracking devices that allow retailers to track the shopper in exchange for a discount: 10% “cool” against 76% “creepy.”

There are a couple of notes to make around these innovations. While only 1 in 4 see the facial recognition tactic as “cool,” that represents a considerable increase from 18% last year and 13% the year before.

However, the appeal of companies’ use of AI and data to choose and automatically order products has not increased since last year. Consumers appear to have limited appetite for this, as evidenced by separate research showing that they are unwilling to delegate purchase responsibility to AI-powered assistants.

Millennials See More Appeal in Such Innovation

Not surprisingly, sorting the data by age group shows that Millennials (18-29) are more likely than others to find each of the retail personalization innovations “cool.”

That was particularly the case for tactics including:

  • An augmented reality app that allows the shopper to view products in a store and then displays associated information and recommendations, including whether the shopper needs to replenish what they have at home (55% of Millennials seeing as “cool” versus 35% of respondents overall); and
  • Companies understand shoppers’ shopping habits so well that they are able to use artificial intelligence/ data to choose and automatically order products on their behalf (29% of Millennials seeing as “cool” versus 14% of respondents overall).

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