Consumers crave human connection amidst era of automation

Businesses should balance automation with personal care, says Euromonitor International.

Shoppers are attracted to e-commerce for its convenience and accessibility, but the lack of personal interaction that comes with traditional in-person shopping experiences can lead to a sense of disconnection and isolation.

Euromonitor International has referred to this as "over-automation," highlighting the potential negative impact of excessive automation on human connection.

In the time of ChatGPT and robotic baristas, salespersons remain valuable to some shoppers. This was highlighted by a 2023 Asia Pacific Retail Flash Survey conducted by CBRE, which found that 28% of consumers still visit physical stores to seek help from salespersons.

“Whilst automation is definitely about driving efficiencies, over-automation should be a genuine concern for businesses,” Puri told the Singapore Business Review. 

So, how can businesses bring in technology for seamless service and at the same time tap the human touch for customer experience? To address these “opposing motivations,” Euromonitor International Research Consultant Sahiba Puri said businesses should learn authentic automation. This involves the purposeful application of technology in businesses

When to automate

So, how can businesses bring in technology for seamless service and at the same time tap the human touch for customer experience? To address these “opposing motivations,” Puri said businesses should learn authentic automation, meaning that the application of technology in businesses should be “purposeful.”

Puri cited an example from the beauty shop, Lancôme, which launched a tech flagship in Singapore. The store provided consumers personalised skin analysis from the brand’s skin tool and to balance it with human connection, they offer an in-person consultation with Lancôme experts.

“In doing so the brand combined tech-driven skin analysis with human expertise and curated a well-rounded customer experience,” said Puri.

Another example is when scientists at Nanyang Technological University and Tan Tock Seng Hospital developed a prototype device designed to detect and prevent falls among the elderly population.

​This is a mobile robotic balance assistant that enables seniors to have increased mobility whilst providing a high level of attention and swift response that may not be attainable by their human caretakers. 

“As such, robotics that improves the quality of life and complements human expertise will be a competitive advantage moving forward,” Puri said. 

For Ben Chien, AnyMind managing director of Greater China, brands in Hong Kong are having problems with “under customisation,” which means businesses are struggling to create new experiences with people going offline as well as online.

 “How to sort of maximise this online back to offline experience through social and through video, this is very, very new, and does require a lot of customisation to different groups, different segments, user segments so I would imagine that no one is properly equipped to have a full-army workout on this type of customised creative and custom content,” Chien told Singapore Business Review.

Chien said under customisation may happen when retailers struggle with marketing campaigns for a product with two purposes. For example, developing a marketing strategy for gaming laptops that can be used as a working laptops.

“Now you have a problem that you are selling one thing that provides two purposes to two completely separate groups… How do you sort of custom your creative assuming you have the data? You still have to customise these very differently,” he said. 

 Data from Euromonitor’s marketing trends for 2023 showed that 58% of consumers are comfortable talking to a human when addressing customer service issues. Only 19% said they interacted with an automated bot on a website. 

Shorter attention span

Consumers also demand functionality and efficiency when shopping online. Puri said mindlessly browsing for hours makes consumers “unproductive and wasteful.”

With excessive use of social media, consumers now have reduced attention spans and an increased risk of mental health issues.

But AnyMind Singapore’s country manager, Toh Yi Hui, said the attention span for advertisements varies depending on the platform. There are growing social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram in which people prefer shorter content that is less than 30 seconds whilst YouTube users may prefer watching longer content. 

Yi Hui said brands are using influencers and pets in branded videos or advertisements to gain traction from customers.

“A lot of brands have gone towards that direction now by utilising influencers or event creators to create videos more organically, or to present the brands or services differently,” said Yi Hui.

“Brands are likely to reach out to consumers in the most contextually relevant manner so by utilising influencer marketing when people follow them, they are interested in their content. Integrating the products and how organically this content can relate to them,” added Yi Hui.

 A 2022 study by a marketing firm, Emplifi, revealed that Instagram Reels, which also feature shortened videos, outperformed other platforms with 80% of Asia Pacific (APAC) brands publishing at least one Reel in the third quarter of 2022. Instagram Reels in APAC are widely used within the sports industry (89%), followed by media (88%), and entertainment (87.5%).

TikTok earned higher reach engagement for brands, with a 57% to 43% advantage, and follower growth for brands on TikTok continues to inch up to 200%.

“Short-form video is a vital part of a brand’s marketing mix and is here to stay. Brands have added Instagram Reels to their content strategies, and TikTok’s increase in followers reaffirms its position as the fastest-growing channel out there,” said Varun Sharma, Emplifi vice president for APAC and Japan. 

“To maximise reach and engagement, brands need to invest their resources in the content formats and on the platforms which resonate with their audience,” added Sharma.

Application programming interfaces

Even though there is a warning against over-automation, Yi Hui said businesses will embrace technology-driven strategies and one of these automation trends is the application programming interface (API). This trend helps marketing operations such as automation, integration, social media, and data collection, amongst others.

Brands already using API are those offering fast-moving consumer goods. Yi Hui said these businesses with different types of segments may need to automate some of their processes such as creating an integrated dashboard to evaluate flows of sales and services.

 “A lot of the businesses have mentioned their pain points like it’s doing the manual work of updating the platforms using Excel sheets and all that. That is prone to human errors, so the entire streamline of these operations is going to be quite crucial,” said Yi Hui.

To address unproductive screen use, Puri said built-in apps have APIs that offer screen time management to consumers. An example of this is Opal, which provides services that allow consumers to block distractions and limit screen time.

 “It provides you reports regularly, where you can monitor your activity, and then you can decide on how you want to create better habits,” said Puri.

Euromonitor International’s data showed that over 57% of consumers deleted social media apps on their phones.

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