BY Capgemini
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IT trends spotted and checked by experts


What happens

The Japanese telecommunications operator Softbank Mobile has announced it will open a store where all sales staff will be robots, before the year is out.  

so what?

Chief Operating Officer at Hoomano

Martin de La Taille is Chief Operating Officer at Hoomano, a company that edits interactive software for robots (scripts, dialogues, behaviours etc.). A graduate of the EM Business School in Lyon,...

NAO-style humanoid robots in retail environments are perfectly capable of welcoming customers to stores and pointing them in the right direction. Unlike humans, they can also carry out product demonstrations constantly without needing a break. These robots have also become an attraction in their own right, increasing the number of visitors to shops and consequently boosting sales.

What role can humanoid robots play on the sales floor?

In Japan, where the appeal of social robots is culturally strong, the mere presence of such robots draws customers in. Robots can dance and really put on a show. In the US and in Europe it's a little different. "Hype" is not enough: there has to be a return on investment. It's a question of finding a way to use robots in a way that enriches the customer's experience in a physical store, giving the customer a unique experience. 
The main role of robots is to "welcome" customers, in the broadest sense of the term. When entering a sales point, robots will say "hello" and, at times, nominatively greet the customer by scanning their loyalty card. They will then guide the customer - explaining how to pick up a product that was ordered online, for example - or inform them about special offers. All of this would be possible in various languages. 

Another type of use is for carrying out demonstrations of technical products. The French electrical appliances company Darty, for example, had a problem promoting the Hue connected lamp designed by Phillips. In order to explain how it works, a robot now asks customers what their favourite colour is before turning all the lights in the store's lamp department that colour. 

Finally, a robot can carry out satisfaction surveys. If empathy towards the machine can be created, customers will engage in such tasks more willingly - indeed, the response rate is between eight and ten times higher with a robot. The data collected is particularly rich and sincere because interaction with the robot is emotionally more inviting. The client creates a bond which would never exist with a touch screen terminal.

What are the benefits?

The robot will collect contact details and email addresses in order to send customers a photo of themselves alongside the robot. It would also know how many people it has sent a message, whether they were male or female, and their age. 

The robot will also create a "zone of interest" where it is situated and thereby increase turnover for the in-store departments within a ten meter radius. It will also help in terms of managing queues at cash registers. With regards to demonstrations, a retailer could make a brand pay for this service that puts their product under the spotlight.

Will robots one day replace human sales staff altogether?

No. Customers enter a physical store in order to have human contact. That said, robots can relieve sales staff of repetitive tasks such as welcoming customers and giving demonstrations. Robots can also help staff complete a sale by sending a notification to their tablet. 

Progress in artificial intelligence is making man-machine conversations more fluid. Today, the majority of interactions are based on Q&A scripts requiring closed or short answers. By recognising shapes and analysing facial expressions a robot can more easily interpret the behaviour of the person it is talking with - as well as that person's emotions and way they are dressed - so as to react accordingly. 

Who cares?

  All retailers can use these types of social robots to increase the number of people visiting their stores and to make a sales point more alluring. In Japan, Softbank Mobile has seen a 30% increase in the number of people entering its stores. Elsewhere in the archipelago, Pepper (designed by Aldebaran Robotics) welcomes and guides store-goers when they arrive at the door of Nescafé stores, as well as helping them to choose a coffee machine. In France, the same type of robot entertains customers in Carrefour hypermarkets with different games. A robot that the SNCF (the French National Railway Company) has made available on train platforms informs people about the train times and gives them information about the places that they can visit in the area. Stakeholders in the hotel industry are also studying the possibility of placing social robots in their establishments.     
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