Annual Square Research Signals 2024 Will Be a Year of Long-Awaited Growth for Businesses

Business expansion and automation to address staffing challenges are top of mind for restaurants, retailers

Today, Square released its fourth annual Future of Commerce report, with comprehensive analysis on how business owners and consumers are considering the evolution of the restaurants, retail, and beauty industries. The report offers insights on how these businesses are shifting – and how consumers are responding – particularly amid further advancement in automation and generative AI.

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In 2024, business expansion and automation to address staffing challenges are top of mind for restaurants and retailers. (Photo: Business Wire)

In 2024, business expansion and automation to address staffing challenges are top of mind for restaurants and retailers. (Photo: Business Wire)

In collaboration with Wakefield Research, Square surveyed thousands of business owners and consumers on restaurant, retail, and beauty industry trends across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

“For businesses, the future is looking cautiously optimistic, and business owners say they’re looking to grow despite diverging consumer economic sentiment,” said Matthew O’Connor, Head of Verticals and Platform at Square. “With Square’s ecosystem, businesses can easily expand – whether that means opening a new location or introducing new non-core offerings – while continuing to drive customer loyalty and engagement.”

Decisively, 100% of surveyed restaurateurs in the United States say they plan to expand their businesses in the next 12 months through offering new products or opening additional locations, and 79% report feeling more optimistic about the future of their restaurants. At the same time, three in four consumers say they expect to pull back on restaurant spending in 2024 – so restaurateurs need to invest in more efficient ways to find and engage customers in order to see return on their investments.

  • Consumers are looking for a tech-forward approach from eateries – 73% of consumers surveyed are supportive of local restaurants using AI-based tools, and 78% would prefer to place their orders via self-serve kiosks. This bodes well for businesses where staffing is top of mind, as understaffing issues have persisted at restaurants for a reported average of 19 months. Nearly all restaurateurs (98%) believe AI will solve some of their staffing challenges, particularly around food prep and delivery management (42%), voice ordering technology (41%), predictive ordering and inventory management (39%), and food prep robots (38%).
  • Restaurateurs are not only investing in AI to address labor challenges – more established automation tools are also on the agenda in 2024. 55% of surveyed owners plan to increase their spending on technology and automation tools in the next 12 months, and 80% of consumers want restaurants to invest in at least one area of automation when they’re not at full staffing capacity.
  • As restaurant owners look to expand, 78% of those surveyed say they’ll experiment in the coming year with non-core offerings like meal kits, subscriptions, events, and more. Restaurateurs say that right now, nearly 20% of their revenue stems from products and services outside of their core restaurant offerings.

“Automation and AI are going to be key growth levers for restaurants in the coming year, though not in the way you may think,” said Ming-Tai Huh, General Manager of Square for Restaurants. “The vast majority of restaurants will be integrating AI into their operations in small, iterative ways – not through flashy robots but through automation in marketing or kitchen workflows – and these minor changes will add up to saved time and more profit.”

Growth is top of mind for retailers in the United States as well, with 57% of those surveyed saying they’re eager to expand in the coming year – though they are split on whether to prioritize brick and mortar (49%) or online offerings (51%). With 58% of consumers typically shopping in-store and 42% online, the research emphasizes that keeping in touch with customers via digital channels is key no matter where or how they choose to shop.

  • Offering compelling in-store experiences for customers is key for retailers this year to continue driving traffic into stores – consumers report they’re most likely to try offerings like in-person loyalty programs (56%), in-store dining options like a coffee or wine bar (43%), and interactive displays, kiosks, or activities (30%).
  • AI-powered product recommendations is the top priority tool for retailers of all sizes to implement, especially for those planning to add more online options over the next year (42%).
  • To compete in today’s marketplace, retailers are offering more choice and flexibility to reach new and existing customers – such as by implementing faster and easier communication channels with customers (42%) and providing Buy Now, Pay Later options like Afterpay (39%).

“Whether retailers are focusing on in-store or online shopping, it’s more important than ever to maintain communication with your customers,” said Roshan Jhunja, General Manager of Square for Retail. “Retailers should be building rapport and staying connected with their customers through social media, email, and text, and they should also be finding ways to create unique in-person experiences to bring folks into their stores.”

The report also includes findings on beauty and how consumers approach finding (and sticking with) beauty care providers – 62% of those surveyed have a preferred provider, though 69% have switched due to factors like overly long wait times. Consumers have also signaled interest in turning to beauty or personal care providers for online tutorials (27%), in-person classes (26%), and at-home DIY boxes (23%).

For a full analysis of the top restaurant, retail, and beauty trends for 2024, industry data and insights from Square experts, and real-life examples from Square sellers, download the report here or reach out to

About Future of Commerce

The retail and restaurant surveys were conducted by Wakefield Research among 2,000 retail owners and managers and 2,000 restaurant owners and managers, with quotas set within each survey for 500 respondents per market in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia between October 27 and November 8, 2023, using an email invitation and an online survey.

The consumer survey was conducted by Wakefield Research among 4,000 nationally representative adults ages 18+ in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia, with quotas set for 1,000 respondents per market, between November 15 and November 28, 2023, using an email invitation and an online survey. Data has been weighted.

About Square

Square makes commerce and financial services easy and accessible with its integrated ecosystem of commerce solutions. Square offers purpose-built software to run complex restaurant, retail, and professional services operations, versatile e-commerce tools, embedded financial services and banking products, buy now, pay later functionality through Afterpay, staff management and payroll capabilities, and much more – all of which work together to save sellers time and effort. Millions of sellers across the globe trust Square to power their business and help them thrive in the economy. For more information, visit

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