How long before androids replace humans at retail?

Discussion
Apr 17, 2015
George Anderson

We’ve seen the future of retail and it includes robots. According to reports, banks and a department store in Japan are using humanoid robotic devices to help improve the customer experience. In the case of the Mitsukoshi department store, the robot known as Aiko Chihira from Toshiba looks like a young woman.

It is not likely to be mistaken for an actual person, at least at this point, since it won’t be able to engage in a conversation or respond to questions from customers at the Tokyo department store.

[Image: Communication Android]

The robot, which will speak in Japanese and also uses sign language, will be used to provide customers with information about the store and events. It has been designed to move its lips while speaking, and other human movements such as blinking have been incorporated into its features.

Closer to home, Lowe’s has tested non-human looking robots in store as a customer service aid. OSHbot, created by Fellow Robotics, is able to communicate with customers in multiple languages and can help them find products or engage with live associates elsewhere in the store to get answers to their questions.

In a RetailWire poll from last October, 58 percent of respondents indicated that they expected to see widespread adoption of robots in U.S. retail over the next decade.

Do you see a future in which robots replace humans as sales associates in retail stores? Will consumers be more or less receptive to robots at retail if they look more human?

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14 Comments on "How long before androids replace humans at retail?"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Androids will do an overall better job than many humans but the impact on unemployment would be devastating.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

OK, I am so creeped out. People might actually respond better to a more robot-looking robot than a human looking one. Or they may develop an overwhelming desire to go to Disneyworld.

Tony Orlando
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

If we have to start paying $15 hour for minimum wage, you will see the robots in some retailers, as they would never call in sick and make unreasonable demands to do their jobs. It is going to be interesting to see how this develops.

Kevin Graff
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

In my opinion, this is ridiculous. Yes, there is no doubt room for some automation in stores that would be beneficial. But look, when stores become nothing more than a place to buy a commodity (which automation produces because no emotional experience is possible), then what is their relevance?

Leave it to IT and frightened retailers to miss the mark on what it actually means to provide a worthwhile shopping experience.

Mark Heckman
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Sure, why not? Robots don’t need sick days, sabbaticals and won’t file for unemployment if you lay them off. Given that allure, some retailers will experiment with some form of automated service that takes the shape of a faux human if they can justify the expense. With that said, I find it hard to envision my butcher or deli clerk needing to plug into a charging station anytime soon.

Mark Burr
Guest
4 years 9 months ago
Creeped out? Maybe. Will they never call in sick? Well, they may break down and in my technology experience, it would likely be as often as a well-hired associate calls in sick. Our President blames our unemployment issues on ATMs. So some may think that these will cause unemployment. Could they? Sure. I’d like to think things like these change employment, not end employment. Will they become prevalent? They could. In 1955, did anyone imagine every fuel station being self-service? No, they imagined “Fill’er up Joe” for the future that they imagined. In 1960, was anyone imagining ATMs? It’s not likely. In 1965, when a GTO roared down the highway, was it popular imagination that a Toyota Prius would be one of the leading vehicles sold? Even a shorter time ago, did we imagine that in some supermarkets and major retailers a self-checkout would handle, in some cases, more than 50 percent of the sales? No. Even when it was launched it wasn’t imagined handling more than 20 percent of sales. Still, many pan it… Read more »
Zel Bianco
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

I don’t think robots will entirely replace humans as sales associates—but they can certainly contribute a lot to retail stores for a lower cost than humans. Perhaps it is because I am an American but I find the OSHbot much more interesting and appealing than Japan’s Aiko. I don’t want robots to look like humans—why should they? And there will always be an element of creepiness to them. A robot that can communicate in a wide variety of languages and tell me what I need to know is great.

I think an apt comparison would be to calling into a helpline. It makes sense to have to go through a voice menu as that can sort callers, provide basic, commonly asked for information and saves on costs. However, I always want to be able to dial 0 to reach a human and if the call menus waste my time by pretending to be a live person it just creates unnecessary annoyance.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

This is pretty much the same discussion as Lowe’s last year. How can we make retail soulless and exactly like a web search? I know, add robots.

The test will be interesting. Personally, I doubt people with much heart will warm up to the cold steel. If you look at employees as robots anyway, this will be an easy choice. If you are a premium destination retailer, I can’t imagine implementing these in my lifetime.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

No thank you! It took me years to get over “The After Hours,” and I don’t want to have to do it again.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Robots will be used in retail here where is a repetitive task list. I can see robots being the counter staff for serving which is primarily order fulfillment. For large stores, giving directions will work fine. Selling women’s apparel never happen. The more robots look and act like humans the better.

Lee Kent
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

I see robots as a way to enhance the selling process where needed, not to replace the sales staff.

And that’s my 2 cents.

Shep Hyken
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Robots replacing humans as sales associates? I can’t see that far into the future. My prediction is that we’ll see more robots on the floor that can handle many functions, but true sales and the ability to build a relationship isn’t going to part of the near-term future. Robots will be able to help customers find items, offer suggestions based what the customer is asking for – which can qualify for a basic level of sales—check the customers out on location and more. But the relationship is still going be up to the interactions that customers have with the store’s personnel.

Kai Clarke
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Yes. Electronic assistance and location helpers are already here. Anything to help expedite and make the shopping experience easier will be accepted, especially if it adds to the bottom line by reducing costs.

Puru Gupta
Guest
Puru Gupta
4 years 7 months ago

Ironically, the basic reason for customers to come over at a retail outlet or a bank is to have a face-to-face interaction. If that is taken away, why not simply have a video conference with Aiko and let customers get their queries resolved?

Innovative idea, nonetheless!

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