What will driverless cars mean for shoppers?

Feb 03, 2015

With driverless cars perhaps coming sooner rather than later, it’s apparently time to start thinking about what drivers will do once their hands are free. According to a survey of 1,000 people by the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, using mobile devices, eating lunch and putting on makeup are among the tasks people will want to do when they no longer have to be in control of navigating the car.

Consumers’ top 10 anticipated activities, according to the survey, are:

  1. Using mobile devices
  2. Eating lunch
  3. Reading a book
  4. Watching movies
  5. Doing work
  6. Paying bills
  7. Playing video games
  8. Putting on makeup
  9. Planning a trip
  10. Shooting and posting photos or selfies

[Image: Google Self-Driving Car Project]

Exploring car designs, the poll shows 71.8 percent want to remain connected digitally to their home when riding in their cars. About a third (32.1 percent) want their vehicle to be designed to be an office; 22.6 percent want their car outfitted as a mobile medical office; 21.1 percent want to be able to tape their journeys for a video diary; and 12.8 percent want features to support a "great mobile party."

Although autonomous vehicles face numerous regulatory hurdles, liability riddles and wide public concerns, prototypes from Audi, Nissan, Mercedes, BMW and others drew scores of attention at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. Trials are underway in the U.S., U.K., Sweden, Japan and Germany’s autobahn. Google unveiled its first complete prototype of its self-driving car in December. In January, Chris Urmson, director of self-driving cars at Google, said he hoped to see fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020.

Despite the safety concerns, the hype asserts that self-driving and driver-assisted vehicles will be able to react quicker to sudden road hazards than a human driver. Driverless benefits also include being able to navigate the swiftest route through traffic congestion, reducing motoring costs, and minimizing environmental impact.

Vast logistical efficiencies are projected for deliveries of shipments to stores and homes. But others are touting the advantage to passengers of smooth rides, autonomous parking, and the extra free time.

"Our daily commute to work will be stress-free and safe," wrote DHL in recent study. "We’ll get into our cars, enjoy a cup of coffee, read the latest news, interact with other passengers, and even catch up on some sleep!"

What will driverless cars mean for the shopping experience and path to purchase? What adjustments may retailers have to prepare for?

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11 Comments on "What will driverless cars mean for shoppers?"

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Max Goldberg
7 years 5 months ago

I look forward to the era of driverless cars. Driverless cars should allow consumers to save money and have more free time. Once widely adopted they can cut fuel costs, reduce insurance rates and allow for more screen time, which potentially means more time to shop. Retailers will also be able to save money through better logistics. Self-driving cars and trucks are not a panacea, but they offer the potential to bring great change.

Zel Bianco
7 years 5 months ago

I wonder how easy it will be to change the destination of your driverless car while in route. Will this be the end of driving past a store and suddenly remembering you need to run in and get paper towels? (and subsequently spending an hour and at least $50 on assorted other merchandise you spot on the way to the paper towels?) Will people even be paying enough attention to notice what they are driving by?

I suppose early adopters of driverless cars will also be those who make shopping lists on their phones in an app that will be integrated with their car, allowing the car to offer to stop at the most convenient location on the way home. But I think the fine line between convenience and privacy will prove to be very important here—as with almost everything at the moment.

Ralph Jacobson
7 years 5 months ago

Well, I’m more passionate (in a negative way) about driverless cars in the first place, let alone what people will be doing in their cars once they no longer have to drive them. Although some of my favorite companies are working on autonomous vehicles, I am a car guy and would miss the opportunity to engage with the driving experience. That said, I’m certain we are still a few years away from me having to panic about no longer being able to drive a car manually.

In the mean time, there are already opportunities for retailers and CPG brands to leverage in-car technologies, without having to await the arrival of autonomous vehicles. Telematics and web search functions can be a potentially collaborative campaign for merchants and brands. In the future, autonomous cars will be yet another channel in the omni-channel ecosystem of paths to purchase for shoppers. Merchants should establish strong brand enthusiasm now to capture shopper attention in-car, when the time comes.

Jerry Gelsomino
7 years 5 months ago

Shoppers will use their free time to conduct more intense researching and comparing of item purchase options. Retailers must be prepared for even more knowledgeable consumers.

Vahe Katros
Vahe Katros
7 years 5 months ago
This question begs a new acronym: SAHFORDIS. Select at home, filter on route, decide in store. Or the more colloquial “Safo,” used as followed: “Do you want to Safo with me this weekend? I’ve hired a manicurist.” As far as adjustments, with driverless cars, shoppers will be more willing to take longer trips to stores. This will have a huge impact on retail real estate strategies. The motivation for shifts from urban to suburban centers will be driven by a shopper’s desire for stress-free commutes and an avoidance of abrupt transitions experienced when arriving into congested urban areas. Look for a resurgence of suburban malls designed to be the end-point of driverless shopping visits. Retailers however need to take into consideration travel issues during the cold holiday months, especially as the polar vortex worsens near the 22nd century. This will lead to shopping trips executed by robots who will act as shoppers’ proxies. Robot maintenance in shopperless malls will be a leading feature at these malls and I’ll go out on a limb and predict… Read more »
Randy Kohl
Randy Kohl
7 years 5 months ago

The impact of self-driving cars will be fairly profound across the retail sector and will offer a number of opportunities to for brick-and-mortar retailers. I recently wrote an article for The Future of Commerce that discusses some of the implications in detail. If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive on the subject, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Shep Hyken
7 years 5 months ago

Why do driverless cars always have a passenger who would normally be the driver? Maybe we’ll see driverless and passengerless cars cruising the streets doing errands. The cars will pull up to the retail store. The employee will place the items into the car and the car will be on its way to the next stop or to return to its owner. We’ll also see retailers offering delivery using driverless cars.

Up next, flying cars. Think George Jetson!

Lee Kent
7 years 5 months ago

I’m just envisioning the after work crowd sipping martinis as they swipe their way through their favorite brand’s site, hitting buy, buy, buy.

I’m thinking retail may need to come up with a no-purchase-while-drinking device or get ready to handle a lot of returns.

Ok, I just had to say this. It’s all speculation at this point.

And that’s my 2 cents!

Tony Orlando
7 years 5 months ago

Wow! We are really getting out there in cyber thought today. Is it just me or does anyone else out there think this driverless car stuff is going to work? You have maniacs all over the road, tired truckers, drunks, texting, road rage, and this driverless car is supposed to gracefully handle all these situations with no problems, right?

Sorry, but the human element is a force that needs to be dealt with, and I’m having a hard time believing that all these scenarios can be avoided by these super smart cars. However since I should answer the question posed, I would make calls, enjoy some music, and the shopping part of it would probably be pretty mundane, getting the things I need and getting home.

Oh and a nice glass of wine wouldn’t hurt either.

Craig Sundstrom
7 years 5 months ago

Just to be thorough, let me be the first to offer the response to “What will they mean?” Absolutely nothing!

I’m probably overstating the case—one thing often leads to another in a way that isn’t foreseeable—but I’ll be cautious on this one, and my spurt of killjoyism not being finished, let me point out that one of the primary “regulatory hurdles…and safety concerns” is the belief that people will need to take over in a emergency (PC ever crashed, anyone?), a process impeded by turning the road into the Shopping Channel.

J. Peter Deeb
7 years 5 months ago

This is true science fiction. The first time a driver has to throw down his or her martini/glass of wine, tablet or book, mobile phone etc. to take control will be the time we discover the truth about the safety and effectiveness of these cars.

Unless ALL cars are driverless, there will be chaos on the road. The only way this will work in my opinion is if a level of technology is developed and implemented that makes auto travel more like train or airplane but with some control of route and destination in the hands of the programmer (driver).

I believe that as the generations ensue, more and more technology will make shopping a technology driven order and delivery system for most daily needs, and in-person shopping may be limited to specialty and luxury items.


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