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RESEARCH INSIGHT | How the Rise of Service Robots Can Help (or Hurt) You

The Research

Interactions between consumers and humanoid service robots (HSRs; i.e., robots with a human-like morphology such as a face, arms, and legs) will soon be part of routine marketplace experiences. Recent research published in the Journal of Marketing Research shows that when interacting  with a service robot, consumers favor purchasing status goods, seek social affiliation, and order and eat more food, among other things, ; however, the uncanny valley of similarity can trigger discomfort.

The authors caution that this discomfort can undermine customer satisfaction and loyalty; therefore, managers should proceed with caution and segment consumers, assigning “human employees to customers who are more likely to fall into technophobe segments but offer HSRs to their technophile peers.” That said, HSRs can provide benefits for consumers and marketers: for example, pairing HSRs with healthy food settings could help prevent an increase in caloric intake; they also offer opportunities for upselling (e.g., in settings in which consumers choose between base and premium products).

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What You Need to Know

  • Service robots are here to stay
  • Not everyone loves robots; it’s wise to know whether you’re targeting technophiles or technophobes, and beware the uncanny valley
  • When interacting with a humanoid robot, people favor purchasing status goods, seek social affiliation, and order and eat more food
  • However, these responses are not as pronounced when  (1) consumer-perceived social belongingness is high, (2) food is perceived as more healthful, and (3) the robot is machinized (rather than anthropomorphized).

 

 

 

Abstract

Interactions between consumers and humanoid service robots (HSRs; i.e., robots with a human-like morphology such as a face, arms, and legs) will soon be part of routine marketplace experiences. It is unclear, however, whether these humanoid robots (compared with human employees) will trigger positive or negative consequences for consumers and companies. Seven experimental studies reveal that consumers display compensatory responses when they interact with an HSR rather than a human employee (e.g., they favor purchasing status goods, seek social affiliation, and order and eat more food). The authors investigate the underlying process driving these effects, and they find that HSRs elicit greater consumer discomfort (i.e., eeriness and a threat to human identity), which in turn results in the enhancement of compensatory consumption. Moreover, this research identifies boundary conditions of the effects such that the compensatory responses that HSRs elicit are (1) mitigated when consumer-perceived social belongingness is high, (2) attenuated when food is perceived as more healthful, and (3) buffered when the robot is machinized (rather than anthropomorphized).

Martin Mende, Maura L. Scott, Jenny van Doorn, Dhruv Grewal, and Ilana Shanks (2019), “Service Robots Rising: How Humanoid Robots Influence Service Experiences and Elicit Compensatory Consumer Responses,” Journal of Marketing Research, 56 (4), 535–56.