Lowe’s new sales help seems a little robotic
A sales floor stacked with lumber and other old-fashioned home improvement necessities might not be the first place you would expect to see bleeding-edge technology at work. But the latest in-store technology developed by Lowe’s Innovation Labs (in conjunction with robotics company Fellow Robots) feels like something from "The Jetsons". In late November, the Lowe’s-owned Orchard Supply Hardware will be rolling out in-store robotic shopping assistants, which glide around the store interacting with customers and catering to their shopping needs.
A promotional video posted on YouTube shows the sleek robotic shopping assistant, OSHbot, rolling up to individuals in the store and interacting with them, introducing itself by name. OSHbot is shown identifying items that customers place within its view and leading the customer to where similar items can be found. Marco Mascarro CEO and co-Founder of Fellow Robots explains that OSHbot maps out the store as it moves through it, so that it is aware of sales floor reconfigurations and changes in stock. OSHbot is also shown enabling touch-screen searches for items, communicating with customers in multiple languages, and facilitating cross-store video chats with live associates.
According to a Wall Street Journal article, Lowe’s currently has two functioning robots and may introduce more. The article also indicates that the high cost of robot building could be a roadblock to widespread adoption, at least for now.
OSHbot is not Lowe’s Innovation Labs’ first foray into science fiction technology. In June, Lowe’s began demoing its Lowe’s Holoroom, a three-dimensional simulator designed to help customers make home improvement choices.
In addition to the features shown in the OSHbot video, the theoretical uses of integrating robots with other burgeoning technologies to extend omni-channel reach and guide customers down a path to purchase seem endless. With a projected 53.2 million mobile coupon users in the U.S. by the end of 2014, according to Statista, couponing is one area in which robots and smartphones could be used in conjunction.
But the changes that widespread adoption of shopper assistant robots could make does raise questions about what will become of the humans who now staff the sales floor.
According to a study cited in a Business Insider article, "as much as half the U.S. workforce is at risk of being replaced by mobile robots and ‘smart’ computers within the next two decades," with retail associates being the segment of the economy most likely to get replaced.
- Newest Workers For Lowe’s: Robots – The Wall Street Journal (sub. required)
- Orchard Supply Hardware’s OSHbot – YouTube
- Meet Lowe’s New Robot Retail Workers – Business Insider
- Science fiction tech helps Lowe’s customers with remodels – RetailWire
- Number of mobile coupon users in the United States from 2010 to 2014 – Statista
In what ways could robots meaningfully enhance the customer experience? Will retail workers eventually find themselves replaced by robots?