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There’s helpful – and then there’s overbearing. Have you ever gone shopping and found yourself annoyed when a store employee asked, unprompted, if you needed any help?

Then you’re not alone. A new survey says 95% of all shoppers feel the same.

According to the consulting firm HRC Retail Advisory, virtually all shoppers responding to the survey said they want to be left alone when shopping, unless they actually need a store associate’s help.

While the percentage is much higher, the sentiment is in line with previous surveys in which shoppers said they only want help when they ask for it. The big difference in this survey is that technology could be making well-meaning store employees not only annoying, but unnecessary.

The HRC survey found that 85% of shoppers want to be able to check prices at scanners throughout a store instead of having to ask an employee for help. Three-quarters say they’d like an in-store app that would provide product recommendations, and about two-thirds say they prefer to make purchases online and pick them up in store, where store staffers won’t pester them because their purchase is already complete.

Shoppers are also turning to technology to learn about deals and even to avoid cashiers. 34% of shoppers said they would like to have promotional and sales information sent directly to their phones when they enter a store. And 30% said they’d like to pay for their purchases from the sales floor, with mobile or handheld scanners.

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In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors of a 2016 study entitled “Retail space invaders“ said store associates who are trying to be helpful and help make a sale, can sometimes have the opposite effect.

“Shoppers want a certain level of privacy in a store, and they want to have control over that privacy,” wrote Carol Esmark and Stephanie Noble. “So when a shopper perceives that an employee is watching them when they don’t require assistance, they’re more inclined to flee the aisle in order to regain control – and is thus less likely to make a purchase.”

So HRC says retailers ought to invest in technology in order to provide shoppers the kind of help they say they want. “As consumers begin favoring in-store technology over sales associates while they shop, retailers must adapt to shopper expectations in the store environment,” said HRC President Farla Efros.

Much of the “go-it-alone” sentiment pertains to patrons of certain types of retailers, such as those that sell clothing, or electronics, where store associates are likely to earn a commission and are therefore inclined to offer their help whether you need it or not. You’re less likely to be hassled by overly helpful employees at the grocery store. And with grocery store apps now including product information, digital coupons, store maps and product locators, it’s less likely these days that you would even need to ask a grocery store employee for any help.

Which makes your friendly cashier’s question “Did you find everything you were looking for?” all the more grating. If store staffers really wanted to offer their assistance and ensure you had a satisfying shopping experience, why wouldn’t they do it before you arrived at the checkout and unloaded all of your purchases onto the belt?

Apps, self-checkouts and handheld scanners don’t ask how they can help, or how your shopping experience was. So if you truly want to be left alone when you shop – someday, the way things are going, you may not have a choice.

Photo by Danny Nicholson

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