Autonomous Products—Do They Help or Hinder Us?

I can’t imagine that many people like to clean their bathroom. I think most of us would jump at the chance to pass that particular chore off to a home robot. Sure, it feels good when the bathroom’s clean, but wouldn’t you feel just as good (if not better) about your clean bathroom if you didn’t have to do the work yourself?

People are delegating manual tasks like housecleaning or mowing lawns to autonomous products more and more, freeing them from mundane chores. Some researchers claim that a section of consumers hesitate to purchase autonomous tools for manual labor due to losing the sense of satisfaction in a job well done.

Are autonomous products truly robbing consumers of meaningful experiences? What’s the relationship between manual labor’s perceived value and autonomous product adoption?

Researchers from the University of St. Gallen and Columbia Business School published a new Journal of Marketing titled “Meaning of Manual Labor Impedes Consumer Adoption of Autonomous Products,” which examines just that.

Their evidence suggests that people feel satisfied when they complete household chores and that autonomous products strip away a source of meaning in life despite potential gains in efficiency and convenience, making consumers hesitant to buy them. The research shows that everyday tasks have value, and although cleaning may not make us happy, it adds meaning to our lives.

The top value proposition of robots is that they free up time. iRobot, for example, claims that Roomba saves owners as much as 110 hours of cleaning a year. German home appliance company Vorwerk promotes its cooking machine Thermomix with “more family time” and “Thermomix does the work so you can make time for what matters most.” Instead of promoting the quality of task completion (i.e., cooking a delicious meal), the company emphasizes that consumers can spend time on more meaningful activities.

The study demonstrates that the perceived meaning of manual labor (MML) is critical to predicting the adoption of autonomous products.

I’m unsure if it’s truly the “perceived value of manual labor” that prevents consumers from purchasing household robots. I think it’s just simple math: value obtained vs. cost to adopt. Robots are not cheap.

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