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December 30, 2016

In the mens section of a department store in Japan,robots were used as store staff to sell clothes to shoppers, after interacting with them and understanding their needs. This was a pilot exercise run by Japans Osaka University earlier this year for testing robots in a retail scenario. The pilot was run in the mens department because male shoppers often feel pressured to make a purchase after interacting with sales staff and showing interest even though they might not be ready to buy yet. With robots, men seemed more comfortable as robots make no such assumptions regarding sale during or after interaction. The experiment was considered successful, as Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University says robot never tells a lie, and that is why the android can sell lots of clothes.

It is still early days for retail stores managed by robots even in Japan which is undergoing a droid fascination and at the forefront of creatively implementing robots in daily interactions. While robots have already been working at the backend of retail operations to streamline supply chains, shipping and logistics efforts, they are expected to make their way to the store fronts to meet customer support and sales staff needs.

In August 2016, Lowes announced that it will introduce autonomous retail service robots, over the next couple of months, in several stores. The LoweBot, a 5-foot tall machine, will greet customers and help them locate items inside the store. The LoweBot has a 3D scanner for human detection and speech recognition capabilities that enable interaction with customers. The screen attached to a LoweBots body displays the details and product information requested by shoppers. The LoweBot also assists with in-store operations including inventory management to assist sales staff. Lowes has further plans to utilize in-store data collected by robots to find and detect inventory patterns for optimization purposes.

Digital savvy consumers of today, already have a big appetite for intelligent assistance. Whether its information coming from Siri, Watson, Google Now or Pepper (Japanese robot designed to live with humans), the ability to provide a robust and seamless customer experience is key to retailer success. Artificial Intelligence is able to make use of customer analytics and shared data faster and more accurately than a human sales representative to deliver targeted and timely offerings to the customer.

It cannot be denied that there may be limitations in AIs ability to support customer complaints and returns or deal with any situation where human emotions are strongly entwined with the shopping experience. In these cases a strong dose of human intuition is necessary to fully understand the consumer and ability to meet and exceed their needs to retain loyalty.

We would like to hear your thoughts. Will you shop at a store run by robots? Will these lifeless bionics make you feel less pressured and help provide a smoother shopping experience?

Nicole Fortenberry is an ex TCSer and was the of Director of Corporate Communications for TCS Digital Software & Solutions Group. She led the communications strategy including analyst and influencer relations and internal and external messaging to influence desirable audiences to advocate for DS&S Group business strategy and solutions. With more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry, she leverages management, communication, operational and developmental skills to achieve desirable results.


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