Sorry Barbara. Not so much.
According to a just released study, people who need people, or more specifically people who need people helping them when they shop, may be lucky but they're a minority. HRC Retail Advisory conducted a survey of 2900 North American consumers about their habits and preferences. They found that 95% of those surveyed said they wanted to be left alone in stores. When they did need help, 85% wanted to be able to check prices at scanners rather than talking to an actual person. When shopping for technology items, 69% said they want to be able to order it online and pick it up at a store, no interaction needed. The only time that a majority wanted an actual person to assist them was when they were looking for help with those aforementioned technology items, and then only by the barest of margins, 52%. Rather than channel Streisand's Fanny Brice and "First be a person who needs people," we seem to prefer parroting Garbo's Grusinskaya from "Grand Hotel with "I want to be alone."
In some respects this echoes our day to day interactions with friends, family and associates. More and more communication is done asynchronously and electronically via email, texts and posts. To be sure, there is great efficiency in being able to send out a thought or picture or invite to many and enable them to react in their own timeframe. (Of course, that timeframe has to be microseconds after we hit the "send" button or we wonder why there is no response. That so called "dopamine-loop" of hit send/get response has been documented as not a whole lot different than that of Pavlovian dogs, though we prefer to think of it as a little higher level.)
Even if you know that a person is at their desk and you are at yours, it's not uncommon to swap a dozen one-line emails or texts back and forth to address an issue. The alternative, of course, is to pick up a phone and have an actual (shudder) conversation. But that would mean talking to another person, and who wants that?
In that light it hardly surprising that we prefer shopping that way as well. We sit at home on a Sunday night in our PJ's and bunny slippers and scroll through pictures, descriptions and reviews of everything from sweaters to cappuccino makers. So when we actually get dressed and decide to do it in person, we want the same. You see similar behavior at sporting events and concerts, where many spend their time watching the giant screen for the best view, or looking at their phones to see the twitter comments about the game. They do that at home, and are reluctant to give it up even if the real deal is right in front of them.
I've bucked that experience first hand. At a classical concert, I put my baseball cap back on to block out the screen hanging over the stage so I focused on the sound of the pianist and not the visual. And I almost got into a row with a guy who stood up blocking my view of the stage at an Alicia Keys concert. When I asked him to sit down so I could see, he told me to watch the screen over the stage. Luckily he went to the rest room when the girl was on fire.
But back to the stores. While people appear to prefer electronic sales assistance to the human variant, that's not to say they don't want people involved. Roughly 70% report taking pictures of merchandise in the store and sharing them with friends and family to get opinions. So it's not that they don't want input, they just want it from people they trust. And that means a whole a whole lot more people online in the store. Which means you'll be hearing this: "Attention shoppers: special on WiFi in aisle 5."
Marc Wollin of Bedford rarely goes into stores anymore. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.