Humanoid robots in retail

Humanoid robots have been in world news a lot lately, with Japan at the forefront of deploying them in a client-facing role in retail. The country is currently using SoftBank’s Pepper (the original brainchild of French robotics company Aldebaran, which SoftBank acquired in 2012) in about 500 companies nation-wide. Taiwan has recently followed suit, and a soft launch in the U.S. is apparently next on the horizon. In a recent article by Inc.com, Steve Carlin, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development for the Americas at SoftBank Robotics, explores the possible fields of application and discusses the much raised point of whether robots are likely to replace human sales staff.

According to Carlin, Pepper’s first and foremost area of use will be in retail, as he offers retailers many benefits with regard to customer interaction, customer engagement and customer experience. In addition to equipping the robot with product information and using him to boost brand value, retailers also have the option of connecting him to their inventory database and CRM system. Pepper can easily provide customers with instant inventory or lot checks, letting them know what’s readily available at any given location. When asked whether a humanoid robot could replace a human salesperson in full, Carlin reassured that this technology “will alleviate redundancies, like telling customers where the bathroom is and other tasks, but it cannot replace people”.

Grassfish has been developing Pepper for use in retail banking for a few months now, with the robot having made several public appearances, most recently at the Austrian Innovation Day 2016.