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Who Needs Humans?

September 2018

Revealed: Over half of us prefer to shop with retailers who offer self-checkouts 

  • 57% of us prefer to use self-checkouts
  • Convenience and speed are among the top reasons people choose to shop online
  • More than half of us spend more money online compared to in-store

Brits are increasingly turning towards retailers who offer self-service payment options, with over half of us (57%) opting to avoid human interaction during the retail experience, a new study has revealed.

The research, conducted by delivery management company Whistl, found that it’s the older generation who still favour human interaction when making purchases. 70% of over 45s prefer to speak to a human, compared to only 25% of 18-24-year-olds. When it comes to gender split, 53% of men would opt for a self-service payment option, compared to 47% of women.

The survey looked at how important human interaction is for certain types of shopping. When it comes to buying groceries, only 17% consider human interaction important.

When shopping for medical or beauty items in a pharmacy, more than 74% of people said it was important to have some level of human interaction. 26% said it was very unimportant, with some stating that the embarrassment of asking for certain products meant they preferred to use self-service options.

For more than half of us (63%), human interaction is not necessary when shopping for clothing. One in three (37%) said that they would only want human interaction if they couldn’t find what they were looking for or if they had a problem with an item they had already purchased.

While people may prefer the shopping experience without human contact, more than half of Brits prefer to speak to a person when they need customer service support, whether over the phone or face to face.

When it comes to spending habits:

  • more than half of the people surveyed (51%) said they would spend more online 
  • 39% who would spend more if they were shopping in-store
  • 10% admitted that how much they spend either in-store or online would depend on what they were buying.

Whistl’s research also examined the reasons people choose to shop online. Convenience was top of the list, followed by speed, more variety, and cost. The research also found that, when travel and browsing are taken into consideration, shopping online can take on average half a day less than buying in-store (delivery times excluded).* Avoiding crowds and not having to pay for parking were also reasons for favouring online shopping.

When it comes to ‘see in-store and buy online’, 75% of people admit that they enjoy the experience of looking at products in the shop before purchasing them online. The most popular products for this are:

  • fragrances
  • mobile phones/gadgets
  • jewellery

certain items of clothing (especially coats/jackets).

Young men are more likely to visit stores to browse products, with 35% of 18-35 years old admitting to doing it at least once a month, compared to less than 20% of females the same age.

It’s clear from our research that the younger generation is more in favour of online shopping. Being able to access products at our fingertips offers speed, convenience, variety, and in many cases, savings on products. It does appear, however, that many of us still enjoy the experience of being able to browse products in-store before we buy.  Sensory touchpoints for certain items such as fragrances and clothing are clearly still very important for many consumers, and there may be more retailers can do to encourage purchases to be followed through from their shop to online store.


It is now entirely possible to conduct the entire retail journey without human interaction - items are delivered through the post and can be returned via deposit boxes. Human interaction is however key when it comes to customer service. Retailers should ensure they are offering the best possible customer experience to ensure repeat business.

Melanie Darvall, Director Marketing & Communications, Whistl

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