Will humans shop at a store run mostly by robots?
SoftBank Group Corp., the Japanese parent of Sprint, will test what it claims to be the first store to be run largely by robots.
Five or six of the company’s Pepper humanoid robots will greet shoppers, demonstrate cellphones and make purchasing suggestions. They will also use a tablet to assist customers in handling order processing and finalize data plans.
Some human staffers will be present in the back to check customers’ IDs and for maintenance, but customers will be able to purchase a phone without human contact. The test will run from Mar. 28 to Apr. 3 at a store in Tokyo.
Built with cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) that allows it to recognize voices and to run apps, the Pepper robot is designed to discern emotions in human voices and body movements and respond accordingly.
Japan is undergoing a fascination over robots with the devices also appearing in department stores, banks, hospitals and hotels. Since a consumer version arrived in June, Pepper has sold out for seven consecutive months.
A number of reports also speculate on how automation and robots will waylay industries.
In a report from last November, McKinsey said advances in AI, including machine learning, “are challenging our assumptions about what is automatable.” In retail, the consultancy estimated that 49 percent of cashiers’ tasks are potentially automatable while 47 percent of retail associates’ tasks and 33 percent of the tasks of first line supervisors of retail workers are potentially automatable.
A Citigroup report from last year said retail and sales occupations might become susceptible to computerization due to the rise of big data. Recommender systems used by Netflix, Amazon and Spotify, according to Citigroup, are already tapping “sophisticated machine learning techniques to compare a particular customer’s purchases to those of other customers, and, with instant recall of large product catalogues, can provide product recommendations that, in many instances, may be more useful than those of a human salesperson.”
- ‘Pepper for Biz’ RobotApp Store to Open on February 22 – SoftBank Group Corp
- 1,000 ‘Pepper’ Units for December Sold Out – SoftBank Group Corp
- ‘Pepper Partner Program’ Launched to Support Developers of Apps for ‘Pepper for Biz’ – SoftBank Group Corp
- SoftBank to Staff Cellphone Store With ‘Pepper’ Robots – The Wall Street Journal (sub. required)
- SoftBank Group’s humanoid robots to ‘man’ store in Japan – The Australian
- SoftBank says Pepper on a roll, will staff cellphone store in Tokyo – Japan Times
- SoftBank Plans To Open A Store Staffed (Almost) Entirely By Pepper, Its Humanoid Robot – TechCrunch
- 5 places to meet a robot in Tokyo – Japan Today
- Four fundamentals of workplace automation – McKinsey
- As Japan’s population ages, robots seen as workforce solution – CNN
- The Future of Jobs – World Economic Forum
- Technology At Work – The Future Of Innovation And Employment – Citigroup
How open do you think American consumers will be to interacting with robots in stores? How much potential do you see for robots to improve the in-store experience? What do you see as their limitations?