What do people think about autonomous delivery robots? An investigation of the consumer acceptance in different application contexts

Delivery Robot

Autonomous delivery robots are electrically powered vehicles that move either on the ground or on the road to bring goods to costumers. The usage of autonomous delivery robots for food and package delivery is increasing. While the robots are already used in the US since 2018, first pilot projects in German cities are currently implemented. Due to their opportunities for society and costumers, delivery robots have the potential to become an integral part of the future’s cityscape. The robots offer environmentally friendlier deliveries as well as a logistical answer to the growing number of online deliveries. Besides, the delivery robots can meet customer demands like higher flexibility as well as faster and cheaper deliveries.

However, consumer acceptance is fundamental for the successful introduction of this innovation. Despite the relevance of the topic, little empirical literature on consumer acceptance of autonomous delivery robots can be found. Furthermore, acceptance research on autonomous delivery robots has so far hardly differentiated between the main areas of application of the robots, i.e., parcel and food deliveries, although descriptive studies show differences in acceptance.

Delivery Robot

Thus, this research work of two business psychology students from the Stuttgart University of Applied Science (HFT Stuttgart), empirically investigates the acceptance of autonomous delivery robots for last mile deliveries in Germany. Next to the level of acceptance and factors influencing acceptance, current application scenarios were investigated, and possibly further application scenarios were explored. Therefore, a multi-method approach with a quantitative survey and qualitative interviews was conducted.

Study 1 and Study 2:

The first study was a quantitative online survey with 420 participants, of which 58,81 % are identified as female, 40,71 % as male and 0,48 % as non-binary. The participants covered an age range from 18 to 86 years (Ø 37 years). Overall, students and full-time workers formed the largest group of respondents. The goal of the study was to investigate the level of acceptance as well as factors influencing acceptance. In addition, differences in the application context of the delivery robots (meal and parcel deliveries) were investigated.

In the second study, semi-standardized interviews were conducted with 14 individuals representing three age groups (18-25 years, 26-35 years, and 36-55 years). Among them were students, employees, job seekers, self-employed workers, and persons on parental leave. In this study, reasons for acceptance were investigated and exploratory research was conducted to determine further accepted application scenarios of autonomous delivery robots.

Acceptance of parcel and meal deliveries

The quantitative study showed a medium level of acceptance of autonomous delivery robots, with perceived effort and expected performance being the key influencing factors for acceptance. The overall acceptance was higher for parcel deliveries than for meal deliveries, so individuals would rather use them for parcel deliveries than for food deliveries. They expect a higher performance of the delivery robots for parcel deliveries, which was also found in the qualitative research. No significant difference in the perceived effort of using the robots for meal or package delivery was found.

The qualitative study found that the acceptance is influenced by comparing the autonomous delivery robots with conventional alternatives. It was mentioned that the participants would not use delivery robots if there was no added value in comparison to current delivery alternatives. For example, interviewees consider autonomous delivery robots for parcel deliveries primarily if they are faster than conventional express delivery. Besides, most interviewees would not use autonomous delivery robots for meal deliveries if they were more expensive than traditional meal delivery services. Next to that, punctuality, and quality of delivery (e.g., order to be hot or cold) are central arguments for acceptance of delivery robots.

Further application areas

 The qualitative survey investigated other possible application areas for autonomous delivery robots. Most interviewees named grocery deliveries as a possible application area as it is considered with convenience, short delivery times, and use in emergency situations (e.g., lack of time or illness). Besides, almost half of the respondents could imagine using delivery robots for parcel return. Also, almost half of interview participants were interested in using the robots for the delivery of pharmaceuticals. Predominantly female interviewees were interested in the application areas of drugstores, cosmetics, and fashion. Other application scenarios mentioned were bakery deliveries, deliveries of products which are uncomfortable to buy (e.g., intimate care and hygiene items), personal shipments like gift delivery (e.g., flowers) or returning books to the library.

However, most interviewees consider autonomous delivery robots mainly in emergency situations, especially in cases of illness or pain, in cases of high time pressure or when shopping is complicated by the presence of children. Respondents could not imagine using the robots for high-priced and larger items, electronics, pet shipping.

Conclusion

The current study investigated the acceptance of autonomous delivery robots for the last mile in Germany, in particular whether and how it differs in current and future application areas.

The quantitative study shows a medium level acceptance of autonomous delivery robots in Germany. This highlights a need for action regarding the acceptance of autonomous delivery robots to ensure their successful implementation. The study confirms perceived effort and perceived performance as key determinants of acceptance. Companies should increase the perceived performance of delivery robots and reduce the perceived effort to achieve an increase in acceptance. In addition, the study shows higher acceptance of delivery robots for package deliveries than for meal orders. As the delivery robots are currently mostly used for meal deliveries, the adoption of autonomous delivery robots for parcel deliveries should be further pushed.

The qualitative research showed that application areas in which respondents perceive an optimization of their current delivery situation through autonomous delivery robots are favored. Accordingly, package deliveries are only considered beneficial if interviewees already recognize such an improvement through certain aspects (e.g., sustainability) or expect such an improvement (e.g., faster delivery). The improved usage situation should be highlighted in applications with alternative delivery options (e.g., shorter waiting times or by marketing delivery robots as the fastest delivery option for package deliveries).

In the case of meal delivery, indifference was largely apparent, since conventional delivery services already deliver on similar terms. Therefore, respondents would even reject delivery robots if this would represent the more expensive delivery option. Marketing should focus on highlighting an increased costumer value by using delivery robots, e.g., by free of charge delivery or better quality of delivered meals by offering a warming or cooling function in the robots.

In the area of further application areas, the qualitative studies revealed that the delivery of food or pharmaceuticals and the processing of returns are lucrative areas of application. Respondents do not perceive any comparable alternatives in these fields of application and value the convenience and speed aspects.

It is also apparent that autonomous delivery robots would still be used in emergency or exceptional situations, even if they were generally rejected in one area of application. It might therefore be useful to emphasize this ‚emergency‘ character in communication and deployment: Autonomous delivery robots could be presented as a delivery option for situations in which consumers cannot act themselves (e.g., lack of time, illness, child supervision).

Autors

Surya De Benedetto and Ronja Kaiser