Almost a third (32%) of consumers plan to buy an AI device, including robots or automated assistants, with retailers watching closely as voice commerce develops in the home.
In South Africa, 44,3% plan to buy an AI device in the near future.

These are some of the key findings of PwC’s Global Consumer Insights survey, which assesses the shopping behaviour, habits and expectations of over 22,000 consumers in 27 countries, including 1 000 from South Africa.

The study reports that 10% of respondents globally (South Africa 7,7%) already own AI devices, such as robots and automated personal assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home, and 32% globally (South Africa 44,3%) said they plan to buy one.

Anton Hugo, retail and consumer industry leader of PwC Africa, says: “While it is still early days, particularly in South Africa, the outlook for AI devices is promising. AI is moving rapidly into the retail and consumer sectors. Increasingly, more and more consumers globally are using so-called ‘voice commerce’ on home-based devices to replenish household supplies and groceries.

“The technology is also transforming logistics and delivery, as well as revolutionising how companies profile and segment customers.”

Interest in the devices is strongest amongst consumers in emerging economies including China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. Demand is generally lower in developed territories. Brazilian and Chinese consumers surveyed are twice as likely (59% and 52% respectively) to plan to own an AI device, as their American (25%), British (24%) or French (25%) peers. Italy and Poland also showed strong interest with around 40% of respondents planning to buy an AI device.

Across all markets, early adopters tend to be men, aged 18-34, who are open to collaborative consumption, less likely to take action to reduce the risk of online security issues and fraud, and less price conscious.

These early adopters seem to be looking for opportunities to spend money and enjoy new experiences. They have an upbeat attitude about the economy and personal spending plans, and they are more likely to spend on culinary classes, subscriptions and fitness classes.

In addition to the growing popularity of AI, mobile devices are gaining traction with global shoppers. Mobile purchasing has more than doubled in six years to 17% of all shopping, and is likely to soon overtake computer purchases (20%), which now accounts for only one in five purchases made. Convenience is also playing a part, with half of all respondents using smartphones to pay for purchases in store.

“The survey results clearly indicate that online shopping is catching on rapidly with South African consumers,” Hugo comments. Thirty-three percent of South African shoppers buy products online on a monthly basis. In addition, 23.8% of South African consumers buy products online using their mobile phone/smartphone.

E-commerce continues to dominate – 59% of consumers globally (South Africa 33%) are shopping with online retailers. This has transformed shoppers’ expectations about shipments, with 41% of respondents (South Africa 56.7%) saying they would pay an extra charge for same-day or faster delivery, 44% (South Africa 26.3%) for a specific time slot, and 38% (South Africa 16.1%) would consider a drone as a delivery method.

The majority of South African consumers (80%) indicated they are more likely to order every-day items in bulk from retailer websites. Only 19.2% stated they would order from the manufacturers’ website. Over the next 12 months, 15% indicated they were likely to buy groceries online.

But despite the dominance of the big online retailers, there is still room for physical stores to thrive. For the fourth year in a row, the number of respondents globally who say they shop at a bricks-and-mortar store on a weekly basis has risen, this year by 3% to 44%. In South Africa, 30.6% of consumers said they shop in-store on a weekly basis to buy products, other than groceries.

“Physical shopping is still very much in as an activity for South African consumers. Bricks-and-mortar have remained a key channel for shoppers,” Hugo says.

Both online and in-store, social networks remain the biggest influence on consumers looking for inspiration for purchases, despite consumers globally reporting a small dip in their influence (from 39% to 37%). Less than half of South African consumers (47,7%) indicated that they look to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook for inspiration to make online purchases.

Additionally, 26,9% indicated that they are inspired by visual social networks such as Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest to make purchases.

On data privacy, the survey reflects the ongoing tension for retailers on customer data: 41% (South Africa 40,3%) of respondents globally are comfortable with retailers monitoring their shopping habits to tailor special offers for them, but conversely, over a third (37%) of global consumers (South Africa 11,9%) are protective about their privacy, and opposed to retailers identifying when they are nearby and targeting them with offers.

The annual survey also finds encouraging news about consumer confidence despite concerns about depressed spending and investing. Globally, the majority of consumers surveyed plan to spend the same or more as they did last year, with 38% (South Africa 24,2%) maintaining the same spending as last year, and 37% (South Africa 24,4%) planning more.