Image Source: LSN

The idea of the nuclear family is changing. Rather than a couple and their 2.4 children, family units are smaller or more complex, and can spread across countries. Today’s work culture means that we have less time to see our friends and family, leading to what the Red Cross has dubbed a ‘loneliness epidemic’, and increasing struggles to find a work/life balance. Technology is stepping in to assist us and, increasingly, fill the gaps. With digital assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home, telepresent family members, brand parents, and even companion bots, the new nuclear family is expected to involve technology. LSN Global explored this neo-kinship in their bi-annual trend briefing that Sheridan&Co strategy team attended last month.

Tech is increasingly becoming part of the family: 53% of users thank their devices, and every day ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people wish Alexa, their Amazon assistant, a ‘good morning’. It’s not surprising we treat our tech like people: Gartner predict that people will speak to robots more often than their spouses by 2020.

Image Source: LSN

The rise of neo-kinship means that brands need to take into account the new roles of tech in the home. For now, Amazon and Google’s assistants seem to be cornering the commerce market, enabling consumers to make screen-free purchases. Burger King’s recent advert took advantage of this, ‘hacking’ Google Home assistants with the words ‘OK Google’. While the advert was soon disabled by Google, its short-term success could signal the future of retail: in which the brand speaks to both the consumer and the consumer’s tech. If assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home are doing the weekly shopping, the future of retail must view them as consumer segments, and market to them accordingly.

Brands are also beginning to capitalise on the trust we place in bots, using them to engage with customers and gather data. Gartner predicts that 20% of major brands will have abandoned their apps by 2019. Instead, they will use chatbots or like Google, turn to ‘progressive web apps’. Consumers often forget brand apps after just a few uses, preferring to use the same few apps each day: using bots to engage consumers through popular messaging apps could well be the way to stay relevant. At their recent F8 development conference, Facebook claimed to host more than 100,000 bots on their messenger service.

Image Source: LSN

Chatbots allow for interactive self-serving shopping, and enhance customer service. They automatically reply to comments that might otherwise have been ignored or missed (nearly 90% of messages sent to brands on social media). Bots also speed up the answering process, where human responses can require up to 72 hours to send. With more companied turning to chatbots, slow response times may become limiting factor when making a sale. While still in the first stages of development, chatbots can be customised to embody brand personas, and offer a new level of accessibility and personalisation to consumers.

Gartner estimates that two-thirds of retail interactions are currently made without a human intermediary. Considering the number of self-service options available, it is notable that we look for face-to-face interaction in a third of our shopping. As reflected by the popularity of FaceTime and video chat services, face-to-face conversations allow for an intimacy that you cannot get from reading messages on a screen, and help to promote more natural conversations. As well as providing necessary opportunities for social interaction, human assistants are essential to solve complex problems that cannot be handled by the bots’ algorithms.

The future of retail, then, involves a multi-channel approach, with humans working alongside robots for customer service that is both efficient and high quality.