Monday, July 14, 2008

Weird results from a study on consumer tech adoption

Last month, TNS Global put out the results of a consumer study on 12 retail "innovations" to gauge consumers' receptivity to them. The study surveyed about 4,600 consumers across 8 countries: US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain, China, and Japan. You can download the report here, and I first learned about it from this article.

The results are kind of weird. The article says research's authors found that Japanese consumers were among the least likely to be excited about new technologies as part of the shopping experience - which, if you've ever been to Japan, just doesn't make sense. The survey asks about mobile phone shopping, interactive dressing rooms, and virtual assistants (in the survey, they specify holographic for some reason), among others - all "innovations" that are actually more than just a dream in the Japanese market. They're not well-established, sure, but they are there. When you look at Japanese respondents' ratings of the "newness" of these technologies, they do give these innovations some of the lowest ratings for newness, which may have impacted how they responded to the appeal of each. I just feel, in looking at those results, that a "why" behind the answers is missing, somehow.

Just in general I would be interested in seeing the results against specific internal-to-a-country geographies where some of these innovations are already established. For example, with the work that Stop & Shop has been doing around "smart carts", one of the innovations covered among the 12, it would be interesting to see how survey respondents in the Northeastern part of the US feel about the technology - since they have had a better shot at actually seeing it and/or using it - than their US counterparts elsewhere.

Another weird result: biometric payments topped the list as the most interesting technology for consumers overall. I contrast that with my experience in Nisswa, Minnesota over the 4th of July weekend - where the Cub Food store, once a Pay By Touch customer, still had the signature capture devices bearing the Pay By Touch logo, but with the biometric scanners all yanked out, since the company is now defunct. Was Pay By Touch before its time? Very probably. But is its time due in 2015? Hmmm. I'm thinking no.

And one more that twigged my interest: the resurrection of the "smart appliance" concept in this survey. I just don't see, as apparently consumers do, the arrival of a self-replenishing refrigerator by 2015. More likely, to me, is the integration of a barcode scanner into mobile phones' cameras, so that you can scan a barcode and add it to your shopping list, rather than a refrigerator that is somehow going to be able to tell me how much milk is left in the carton.

It's a very interesting topic, and I'm glad they did a broader market survey, but I thought the selection of technologies to include was kind of strange - smart refrigerators and holographic sales assistants representing one extreme, vs. social shopping networks (which even survey respondents didn't find so innovative) on the other end of the spectrum.

I think the only thing that can be firmly concluded from this survey is that the Sony Walkman Axiom is true: you can't get consumers to tell you much that is useful about things they haven't imagined yet. That is the biggest challenge about being customer centric - you have to take leaps of faith-type risks and see how consumers respond, rather than following a well-analyzed shopping innovation idea. That kind of faith is not often found in retail, but if you wait for consumers to tell you what they want from the shopping experience, you'll never invent the Sony Walkman of Retail.

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