Think back ten or fifteen years ago. The retail industry was a pretty different place. We were online shopping, but it wasn’t quite as it is today. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated online shopping to new heights – not to mention bricks and mortar shops were forced to close their doors for a prolonged period of time.
Retail has been evolving for a long time. The need to improve and evolve the overall customer experience of shopping in stores has been a hot topic for a while, however a post-pandemic world is forcing retailers to think about this more than ever before.
This is where technology and automation have begun to find their place in retail. More specifically robots, and cobots (collaborative robots). Cobots provide the opportunity to ‘wow’ customers and create new and improved experiences in stores.
Cobots in retail
Cobots require human intervention in order to carry out their job. Although a shop fully operated by robots would be interesting, we do need human interaction. If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that!
That being said, there is certainly still a need to be safe in-store and hygiene is important. Using customer-facing cobots where possible and reducing human physical contact is incredibly useful as we continue to get back to ‘normal’ whilst still living with COVID. For instance, cobots are perfectly placed to handle click & collect services. They can also step in to answer basic customer service questions and navigate around stores. This leaves staff to focus on more value-adding or complex tasks.
You might be wondering how a cobot can deliver customer service. Of course, they can’t quite match up to a human. However, because they can interact with humans, they can be programmed to continuously learn from each interaction to constantly improve their level of customer service. They offer the opportunity to field basic and easy requests (think a chatbot on a website) so that human staff can focus on more complex queries.
Today, a large part of any in-store routine for staff is hygiene. Living with COVID-19 has meant that keeping public spaces as sterile as possible is now paramount. But no employee wants to spend time spraying and wiping every half an hour!
Cobots are perfectly suited to keeping on top of stringent hygiene routines, such as cleaning floors and surfaces. Cobots are designed to carry out repetitive tasks such as these much more quickly and efficiently than a human and with less error. And again, they leave staff open to work on more value-adding tasks.
The experience of cobots
And of course, cobots provide a unique and memorable experience for customers. It’s not every day you get assisted by a cobot whilst out shopping – yet! In a digital world, retail needs to keep that draw alive to head into a brick-and-mortar store instead of simply making an online order.
Cobots can be used to bring products to life. For instance, imagine a cobot arm spraying a perfume sample onto your wrist as you browse a new perfume product. Imagine a cobot taking you to the location of the jacket that you’ve seen online but are looking for on the shelves. The Tokinomo display is a good example of a cobot enhancing the shopping experience, with a built-in motion sensor to sense when a customer is nearby. When triggered, it automatically initiates a chosen combination of motions, lights and sounds to make whatever product is being displayed ‘jump off the shelves’. This interactive display technology has been proven to increase sales.
Cobots can really help innovate the in-store experience to ensure that it can hold its own in a digital world. What better way to create a buzz on the high street and give customers something to talk about?