Anyone raised in the 90s will remember those little robotic dogs that would yelp incessantly and do backflips until their batteries (or a parent’s patience) ran out. At the time, it was the coolest thing in every kid’s eyes.
Nowadays, we’re still thrilled over robot gizmos like Roombas, ping-pong bots, and Sophia the humanoid. Even robo dog has made a comeback to tug at our nostalgia.
It seems that our sense of wonder with technology hasn’t really changed after more than a decade of continuous digital innovation. We simply love robots.
So how can big companies take advantage of this unbreakable fascination between humans and bots? Put robots in retail, of course.
From Japan to the United States, robots have shown to do wonders for increasing customer engagement. With promising results already in writing, we can only expect robots to delight more aisles in the near future. So let’s take a look at a few brands already exploring the potential of robots in retail.
Nestlé and The Ave
Image credit: SoftBank Robotics
In 2010, SoftBank Mobile partnered with Aldebaran, a French robotic manufacturer to develop a humanoid robot named Pepper.
Pepper is a wide-eyed, endearing bot who is the first to recognize human emotions and adapt his behavior accordingly. He also recognizes faces and whizzes around autonomously to welcome, inform, and amuse customers.
SoftBanks first used Pepper to greet customers at its mobile stores. During the trial period, the telecom’s California stores showed a 70% increase in foot traffic and 50% of Neo-pen sales were directly due to Pepper.
In 2016, a hip clothing store in LA called The Ave gave Pepper a shot. During his time there, he managed to increase customer interactions by a whopping 98% and also boosted revenue by 300%. Naturally, bigger brands took notice and that same year Nestlé announced plans to acquire Pepper to attract and inform customers in 1,000 of its Nescafé stores in Japan.
Image credit: Lowe’s Innovation Labs
In 2016, Lowe’s Home Improvement introduced a multi-lingual customer service bot creatively called LoweBot. The faceless yet friendly helper rolls up to customers and asks if they need assistance finding something. If the shopper has an example of what they’re looking for, the LoweBot uses its integrated camera to scan the product and check if it’s in stock. It will even chaperone the customer to the right aisle.
According to the Executive Director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, both customers and employees have taken quite a liking to LoweBot and enjoy interacting with it. While he didn’t give any specific data regarding sales or customer engagement, the fact that Lowe’s plans to roll out more LoweBots to their other locations says more than enough.
Best BuyImage credit: Business Journal
Not all retail bots have cute faces or follow customers around the store. In 2015, Best Buy introduced Chloe to their New York store. Chloe is a large robotic arm with a small screen that navigates the shelves to pick out entertainment merchandise for shoppers. It saves customers from waiting for an employee to unlock the glass cabinets and is apparently rather amusing to watch.
While Chloe lives behind a glass window and uses a touch screen to communicate with customers, various shoppers happily commented that seeing Chloe scoot around “never gets old.” One of the creators of this useful bot explained the reason behind Chloe’s success in a statement to Business Journal, “She provides the retail experience customers are asking for and operational value propositions retailers need today and in the future.”
Whether the novelty of robots in retail will ever get boring is yet to be seen, but for now, people everywhere are undeniably fascinated by them. Expert researchers in human-robot interaction like Dr. Chiori Hori from Mitsubishi are dutifully exploring ways to make robots communicate in a more natural manner, which means better opportunities for retailers. You’ll have a chance to pick Dr. Chiori’s brain on everything robo-related at VOICE Summit in Newark this June.
Interested? If yes, go ahead and register for the summit here.