Despite initial avoidance from shoppers across the world, Dr Rebecca Dare from Monash University believes that with some technological ingenuity and improved ‘intelligent’ facial designs robots can be a successful introduction to the Australian retail market.
Dr Dare, Managing Director of the Australian Consumer, Retail and Services (ACRS) commercial research unit within Monash Business School’s Department of Marketing, will discuss the benefits that robots and augmented reality technologies can bring to the Australian retail sector at the ACRS Digital Frontiers Seminar in Sydney (30 October) and Melbourne (31 October).
“Australians may balk at the thought of engaging with a robot when grocery shopping, but they could deliver a number of positives – including faster product selection, aisle navigation and payment options – which could draw shoppers back to the bricks-and-mortar stores,” Dr Dare said.
“Further development of in-store robots that encourage human interaction is required before they can have a positive and meaningful impact on retailers and customers.”
Earlier this year, Scottish supermarket chain Margiotta employed and subsequently fired – within one week – their first in-store robot called ‘Fabio’.
Despite it’s programming, ‘Fabio’ had difficultly moving around the store and directing customers to the products they were looking for.
A German consumer electronics retail chain also found their in store robot ‘Tom’ was being avoided by shoppers, so they programmed it to dance ‘Gangnam style’ in a bid to engage customers.
In October, Walmart commenced testing a new autonomous robot called ‘Auto-C’ in 78 stores across the USA.
The technology will soon be deployed to more than 360 stores. Unlike the previous examples, the ‘Auto-C’ is responsible for scrubbing the floors, allowing Walmart employees to better engage with customers.
Dr Dare said a lack of engagement between robots and humans is due to a misalignment of the robot’s design and job description.
“One key design element is the face of the robot. Looking at the in-store robots available today, such as ‘Tom’, ‘Pepper’, and ‘Paul’, most have been designed with round, friendly, albeit submissive faces,” Dr Dare said.
Although these types of faces signal kindness and trustworthiness, Dr Dare said that a design of longer and more dominant faces signal competence and intelligence – which is important for the role these robots are being hired to do in retail stores.
Dr Dare said robot developers and retailers also needed to align their technology with customer needs and products to optimise customer engagement and reduce avoidance.
“In addition to the facial shape, in-store robots should connect shoppers with human assistance when required, rather than remove human connection from the shopping experience,” she said.
This is an important consideration, especially when 75% of global customers on average want to interact with a real person more as technology improves. This is particularly high among customers in Germany, USA, and Australia (84%, 82% and 81% respectively).