Consumers Turn To Unattended Retail For Speed, Shorter Lines


We all have certain moods and comfort zones when shopping. For some purchases – costly designer fashion and jewelry, luxury cars and major household goods, for example – most of us prefer to have a product expert to guide us (and maybe even upsell us). It adds value.

But there’s an entirely different retail universe where human “help” feels like an imposition.

Given the option, many consumers would prefer to complete certain shopping excursions – from picking out products to checking out – without engaging anyone. Shopping at one’s own pace, unaccosted by sales associates, is a core allure of unattended retail (UR). From the consumer’s perspective, UR also provides the convenience of being wherever they are, and enabling them to pay with anything from cash to credit/debit card to digital wallet.

Now, with a decade of data to mine for insights and the Internet of Things (IoT) promising inventive new devices to anticipate consumers’ wishes, unattended retail is poised for its greatest expansion. The February 2020 Future of Unattended Retail Report: Vending as the New Contextual Commerce, a PYMNTS and USA Technologies collaboration, examines important findings about what consumers expect from advanced UR encounters.

Wherever You Go, There UR

Self-service kiosks in malls and semi-attended customer-activated terminals (SACAT) in grocery stores have made significant inroads, and the latest Future of Unattended Retail Report shows that “contextual vending” – the strategic placement and SKU selection of UR machines – is very much aligned with consumer sentiments about time, convenience and shopping.

Highlights of the new survey reveal a budding consumer love affair with aspects of UR. Speed is a big one, with just about half of respondents saying they like UR for faster checkout, and almost 35 percent saying they like the shorter lines typically seen at UR terminals (for now).

The Future of Unattended Retail Report also notes payment preferences at UR, with debit cards currently doing the most business with 30 percent of transactions. Over 34 percent of respondents said they would prefer to use credit when shopping via UR, presumably for purchase protections that cover credit-based purchases (and when there’s not enough cash on hand).

Mimicking their usage in the wider world, eWallets are used infrequently with UR, with one interesting aside: Of those who have used digital wallets to make unattended retail purchases, almost 80 percent would do so again. eWallet users are four times as likely to use UR as other payment types.

UR Still Far from Mainstream

The big action in UR at the moment is, of course, Amazon Go – but it’s looking like that’s the tip of the iceberg. Of the nearly 3,000 U.S. consumers polled for the February Future of Unattended Retail Report, 70 percent of those who have tried UR like it enough to buy more items and spend more money the next time they encounter an unattended experience.

That’s a lot of potential. As the report states, “Many consumers would like to make unattended retail purchases from self-serve kiosks, vending machines or cashierless stores, but only 11.8 percent of interested consumers currently make such purchases. Our research shows that approximately 48.6 million consumers (20.6 percent of the U.S. population) are interested in non-traditional unattended shopping experiences, but just 14.4 million (6.1 percent) make them. The disconnect between consumers’ interest in and usage of such solutions suggests that some consumers do not use them simply because they are not available.”