There are two reasons why we need to be so careful about shifting technique: the first applies to all fretless instruments, the second is quite specific to cello or at least to strings.
First. This is quite obvious: after shifting, we need not just be somewhere in range of the correct frets, but exactly at the right position. There is no way to find this position just by eye (which is quite sufficient at the guitar) without ruining the first notes in the new position with ugly trial-and-error pitch corrections. Instead, we need to "burn" the paths needed to go into our brain cells, and that's only possible by having a very well-defined technique so that the shifts are actually reproducable.
This aspect is most important on higher-register instruments. But even on fretless electric bass, it's quite necessary to be capable of doing the shifts "by heart", though you have position marks or even fret-lines.
Second. Shifts are a very important tool in particular on the cello. Not only do we simply need to change positions unusually often (due to the long scale combined with the fifths-tuning, and the large used tonal range), they also provide a very expressive effect. That is when we don't simply stop one motif that was played in, say, the first position, pause, shift to fourth pos., and start another motif there, but play a continuous melody line through multiple positions, especially if it's legato. This seems, if you think about it, a physically impossible task: you need to be at one position, play a note that's sustained until the next note starts. But this note is in another position, for which to go to you have had zero time!
To still be able to play legato over shifts, these need to be an integral part of the melody rather than a seperate process. A badly played shift will sound horrible in this context, but one with well-developed technique can not only fit subtly into any melody but does, when varied accordingly to retain a just-right amount of tonal imperfectness, also provide an essential contribution to what makes the cello such an incredibly expressive instrument.