Despite its name, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) isn’t exactly a venue for the average consumer. The cutting-edge technology on display at the annual trade show is typically years away from becoming a routine part of Americans’ everyday lives. That unfamiliarity can make it difficult to gauge the products’ and services’ significance or potential future impact.
Below, we dive into several key themes that will set the tone at CES this year and will become big talking points in consumer-facing industries in the years to come, exploring consumer attitudes to help calibrate these themes’ relevance across industries.
At a high level, people tend to feel positively towards new technology: Nearly two-thirds of all adults are excited about new technologies and believe they will improve daily life, according to a December 2021 Morning Consult poll; the same share feels that technology generally helps more than it harms.
Consumer familiarity and comfort with new technologies
Perhaps the most exciting part of CES is the unveiling of new consumer-facing products: fridges that order groceries after scanning their innards, robots that deliver pizza, vehicles that drive themselves.
While brands may enjoy the initial buzz over these launches, it often takes awhile for the public to become comfortable enough to fold them into their daily lives. We gauged consumer familiarity, interest and comfort with some of the newest technologies that are entering the public sphere.
- The metaverse has penetrated consumer minds: 44% of U.S. adults are at least somewhat interested in visiting a real life travel destination in the metaverse. Younger consumers show the most enthusiasm: 23% of millennials and 22% of Gen Zers said they’re very interested in this experience, compared to 16% of Gen Xers and 8% of baby boomers.
- Across the board, men show more interest than women in testing out various technologies, with the largest gaps in using cryptocurrency (44% of men vs. 25% of women said they’re somewhat or very interested) and using virtual reality to test drive a vehicle (47% of men vs. 30% of women).
- Along with VR test drives, using in-vehicle AI-based assistants to complete tasks like shopping or booking appointments garnered lower interest among U.S. adults, but there’s still noticeable interest: 14% said they’re very interested in both technologies.
The push for sustainability
Growing demand for sustainable products, services and business models has already pushed many consumer-facing brands to take action to mitigate climate change, most recently through corporate pledges unveiled at the high-profile COP26 summit.
Sustainability is top of mind for consumers, so it will be a big issue for companies to tackle in 2022. It’s also an underlying value in many of the technologies we’ll be seeing at CES.
Respondents were asked how much their concern about climate change impacts the following:
- The majority of U.S. adults (74%) are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about climate change and its impacts, with younger generations expressing higher levels of concern.
- These heightened concerns influence individual behavior: 23% of adults said climate concerns have a major impact on their purchasing decisions, and 25% said they impact their opinion of companies or brands.
- Consumers are open to investing in sustainable alternatives: 52% said they would be “somewhat” or “very” likely to buy or lease an electric vehicle in the next 10 years.
- While individuals are taking action, they don’t want to shoulder all of the burden: 68% of adults agree that corporations should be addressing climate change.
Data privacy concerns
Enjoying the benefits of technological advances often comes with privacy trade-offs. For example, retailers can provide increasingly accurate product recommendations based on a customer’s historical shopping data, insurance companies can offer better rates based on driving data, and open banking depends on consumers giving providers access to financial data.
Most consumers are open to sharing their information with brands, but access to that data is constricting, and business-led privacy shifts are making it more difficult for companies to act on the information collected.
Respondents were asked how comfortable they would feel giving the following information to companies in exchange for personalized benefits in shopping, financial services, loyalty programs and other areas
- More than half of consumers aren’t sensitive about sharing their email addresses or shopping history with brands, but closely related data points like shopping transactions and internet browsing history — commonly used to personalize shopping experiences — are deemed more private by consumers, with 45% uncomfortable sharing past transaction history and 57% uncomfortable sharing browsing history.
- Highly educated and high-income consumers are more open than other segments to sharing all types of information with brands due to a higher degree of overall trust in companies.
- Men are much more open to sharing all types of data than women, reflecting men’s tendency to trust companies as long as they provide a quality service.
- While only 41% of drivers overall are very or somewhat comfortable sharing data about their driving behavior, more than half of millennial drivers feel at least somewhat comfortable doing so, suggesting that younger drivers are more open to a quid pro quo with insurers and auto companies.
Artificial intelligence voice assistants in retail
Retailers looking to improve their in-store customer experience may turn to AI-powered voice assistants, an increasingly attractive alternative to human interaction amid the pandemic. They’ll be joining the handful of brands that have already partnered with technology like Google Assistant’s in-home Shopping Actions.
But bringing AI-powered voice assistants to retail spaces is still an emerging trend among a public that largely prefers human interaction when they enter certain businesses.
Respondents were asked whether they prefer to be assisted by an artificial intelligence voice assistant or a human employee when visiting the following places:
- Most U.S. adults still prefer human-to-human interaction over AI assistance at the businesses they frequent (74% vs. 16% on average across the eight types of businesses tested).
- Ambiance appears to impact consumer preference: Patrons have the most interest in AI assistance at movie theaters (26%), traditionally a low-interaction space between employees and customers, and the least at sit-down restaurants (11%), where interaction is expected to be higher.
- Surprisingly, Gen Z — typically the quickest to embrace new technology — is no more likely to prefer AI in these scenarios, suggesting the divides for this technology are not generational.
- Rather, preference appears to be more deeply rooted in socioeconomic status: Wealthier adults have a disproportionate preference toward AI assistance in most retail scenarios — with the largest preference gaps at grocery stores, hotels and fast-food restaurants — but a majority still prefer humans.
Cryptocurrency ownership and blockchain technology
Cryptocurrencies are rapidly becoming mainstream in the United States, opening the door to new ways to use blockchain, such as NFTs and eventually Web3 innovations.
But business leaders first need a basic understanding of who currently owns and uses cryptocurrency to see which consumers are ready for new blockchain technologies and which still need to be educated about cryptocurrency.
Share of respondents who own cryptocurrency
- One in five adults reported household ownership of cryptocurrency as of early December.
- Millennials are most likely to report owning cryptocurrency at 36%, while boomers are the least likely at 6%. But cryptocurrency is not just a fad among younger generations: Gen Xers are slightly more likely to say they own cryptocurrency than Gen Z.
- Men are more likely to own cryptocurrency than women by a margin of 18 percentage points.
- Black and Hispanic adults are more likely than white adults to say they own cryptocurrency at 30% and 28%, respectively, a reflection of the desire for better ways to pay and grow wealth among these traditionally financially underserved populations.