Retail Customer Experience: Robotic Kiosk Taking Self-Service to Next Level

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Nov 18, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

A robot-making ice cream server may sound like science fiction, but it’s not fiction. Allan Jones, CEO of Robofusion, believes his ice cream kiosks will change the way retailers sell ice cream and perhaps other items.

Robofusion is a self-service kiosk that allows users to create their own five-layered ice cream treat without employee assistance. Requiring about 45 square feet, the robots come in three options — corner, flat wall or free standing — and can serve up to 40 treats per hour. The Robot puts on a show by getting a souvenir cup and filling it to customers’ exact specifications.

“We fuse technology and fun in a way that delivers a unique consumer experience,” he said.

The kiosks are perfect for malls, theaters and theme parks, according to Mr. Jones, who said five beta versions of the kiosks in such places have tested successfully. The design is being tweaked based on retailers’ suggestions before the official launch.

For $4,000, the company will install a kiosk at a retail location, train staff, and provide ongoing maintenance and support. The retailer receives a percentage of the monthly revenue generated by the kiosk based on the average number of treats sold each day. Retail partners set the price of an ice cream treat, but they usually cost between $6 and $7 each. Said Mr. Jones, “It’s not a cheap product, but customers are willing to spend more for the fun experience of building a treat with a robot.”

One deal Mr. Jones is particularly excited about is one with a “popular frozen yogurt chain.” The kiosks will carry the frozen yogurt branding; Robofusion will simply supply the hardware.

“This is the only robotic kiosk of this type in the world, so the goal is other products,” said Mr. Jones. “It doesn’t have to be ice cream; it’s a device that delivers a layered concoction, and that could be a lot of things that you can eat and drink. People should view robofusion as a company building kiosks.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the robotic ice-cream maker and the potential of robotics for food products sales? What other food as well as non-food categories may be work with robotic kiosks?

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14 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience: Robotic Kiosk Taking Self-Service to Next Level"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I saw a Robofusion machine (or something like it) at Logan airport in Boston. It was getting plenty of use and an acquaintance who tried the product was happy with it. This plays nicely into the growing consumer preference for customization, and one can envision plenty of retailers (think C-stores) who can use it.

Matt Schmitt
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Two thoughts on this:

1. There is an increasing visibility and dialogue on the way technology is now cutting further into service jobs. Companies are leveraging self-service technologies increasingly, from kiosks to AI systems and now we need to consider robotics in the service sector as well. It’s hard to say what the backlashes will or won’t be with regards to the jobs creation (or destruction) debates, but the real value will ultimately be determined by both the business and the consumer.

2. That said, one thing can be said for this solution — it will probably drive some sales strictly based on the novelty aspect of having a robot serve up product. The cool factor can’t be neglected as a selling point.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Say Hello to the new age of vending machines!

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Part of the appeal of using this type of equipment is watching it work. A clear case of “food theater.” We worked with a client who developed a machine that would make a pizza from scratch, top it, and cook in 2 minutes. The entire process was viable through a smoked glass front. While I expected the customers to purchase their soft drinks while the machine was maiming the pizza, almost every customer stood there and watched it being made. Ultimately the pizza machine evolved into a vending machine. A YouTube clip shows one in action. The same is true for the Robofusion machine.

Ed Dunn
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I remember as a child, I would get one of those waxed dinosaurs at the museum or have a penny re-stamped with the museum logo as a souvenir.

This robot arm with touch screens and FMVs of different robot avatars has the same novelty, but in all honesty this will not replace a single-owner kiosk who can deliver more ice cream in less time with more choices.

I’m a robotics programmer and do not understand the 66% of votes who have doubts. For example, it is now possible to create a retailing robot display that can dynamically dress a mannequin with customized clothes for window shoppers. Like it or not, robots are on the horizon.

Kimberly Nasief-Westergren
Guest
Kimberly Nasief-Westergren
9 years 5 months ago

Fascinating. This takes the vending machine concept to a fun and interesting level. The footprint makes it ideal for c-stores and malls. I foresee plenty of children dragging their mothers over to this for the “fun” aspect of the purchase. Far more exciting than getting my Dippin’ Dots ice cream out of the vending machine at the mall. Kind of reminds me of the robotic arm machines where the user tries to pick a toy up out of the pile of toys in the machine.

Ben Ball
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Automated merchandising in multiple forms is a given in our future. The U.S. actually lags Asia in these technologies by quite a bit. The first market sizing project we did for an automated food delivery system was over five years ago. Several companies are looking at this in multiple formats. It’s going to come.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

It is inevitable isn’t it? Another industry going techno. Another group of young people out of work. Sad but, watch out — it is going to happen. And we thought teen obesity was our only problem.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

OK, I know I’m boring but, frankly, this gimmick strikes me as just a big yawn. Ho hum. And how dumb is it to offer a layered treat that isn’t even in a transparent cup so you can see the layers?

Dr. Emmanuel Probst
Guest
Dr. Emmanuel Probst
9 years 5 months ago

I read that Lay’s is experimenting with a potato chips maker in South America. I see how the experience can be very compelling for consumers, at least in the short run. There is a great opportunity to stage a theater moment around the product and drive traffic to the aisle.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I keep checking my calendar to see if it is April 1st. Apparently this isn’t a joke, despite the campy video.

OK, I buy the customization aspect. (Not new — how different is this from a long list from the Dell Configurator to QSR ordering kiosks to Coke Freestyle?) As for the robot part, this might be more a novelty than an innovation!

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
9 years 5 months ago

This is an interesting novelty (pun intended), that will do well until superior novelties come along and/or young consumers get bored with it. Anyone remember how interesting it was to watch the Krispy Kreme manufacturing process, the first couple of times? Side note: One of the young girls in the video said she was glad to have the robot touching her food, vs. an actual person. Wow.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 5 months ago

I am surprised the number of negative comments. The idea is quite fun and for certain markets could be extremely popular. The real key will be the quality of the product because the fun element will be a one-time experience unless the ice cream tastes fabulous. These technologies will only increase in functionality and cost-effectiveness and will continue to push the envelope in the kiosk/vending machine space.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Retail theater is great; but you still have to be competitive.

Yesterday I ordered an espresso at a local coffee shop in Coral Gables. The woman behind the counter took my money and then proceeded to rub her dirty fingers around the inside of the cup that would soon be mine. I share this story because I want robotics to work. But, as with all concepts, it has to be financially viable.

Regardless of the experience, in my opinion, $6 – $7 per cone is too high for a product/category when sales are often driven by families/younger adults.

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