- U.S. consumers are becoming more comfortable with AI, but there is still work to be done. Nearly half of grocery shoppers say they “somewhat” trust the technology, according to an August survey of 2,000 U.S. grocery consumers by dunnhumby. However, one-third still don’t trust AI at all.
- The future of AI acceptance or rejection depends on how it is applied in customer-facing situations, according to Robert Hayes, research consulting manager for North America at dunnhumby.
- “If [AI] is deployed to meet core consumer needs such as saving people money and improving product availability, then yes acceptance will grow,” said Hayes in an email. “On the other hand, if the business benefits, but the consumer doesn’t see those benefits, trust may decline.”
AI can transform the customer experience, but dunnhumby found that consumers, in general, aren’t yet aware of how AI is being used or how it could be used in the future, according to Hayes. Winning customers’ trust means focusing on applications with obvious customer benefits over those that primarily help a company’s bottom line.
“Asking what benefits grocers could expect is probably not the right question,” Hayes said. “The question should be what benefits could customers expect? Grocers win when customers are happy, and if AI makes their shopping experience more seamless and more personalized, then that benefits the retailer that gets it right.”
Generative AI can enhance personalization, adding a layer of proactiveness, according to the study.
For example, a company could use AI to anticipate and cater to customers’ needs using contextual data such as the time of day, weather and traffic, according to Hayes. This information can be used alongside shoppers’ behavioral data to further refine offers, such as relevant coupons.
Some grocers are already putting AI to use in customer-centric ways. Walmart is using AI to better replace unavailable items in customers’ digital orders, and Giant Food harnesses AI to power personalized pricing, recommendations and rewards through its Giant Flexible Rewards program.
These are some of the steps grocers and other retailers have taken to overcome consumers’ suspicion of AI, but they can also address specific concerns. The survey found that many customers worry that AI deployment can come at the cost of the human touch or connection.
Hayes noted that this concern is strongly connected to age. For instance, only 14% of those over 55 find the use of AI in customer service chatbots appealing, compared to slightly more than half of those under 45.
“For younger customers, optimizing AI in customer service is acceptable, as the efficiency gains can be leveled against the loss of human touch,” Hayes said. “For older shoppers, maintain the human touch where possible.”
Haze believes this divide presents another opportunity for personalization. Age is a good baseline for whether a shopper would prefer AI-powered or human-driven service, and offering a chance to select preferences can ensure every customer gets their preferred treatment.
Another top fear the survey identified is that AI could put security and privacy at risk. However, alleviating this concern is also within retailers’ power.
“When unprompted, respondents talk about these factors far more as harm than benefits,” Hayes said. However, respondents rated security as the most appealing use of AI in grocery when prompted.
“This leads me to think it is a communication issue,” he continued. “Companies need to change the narrative to explain how AI can actually help keep you safe and secure.”