Sunday Morning Disruptive Technology – Robot Shop Assistant

robot2There are many tech driven trends that are and will change retail – online shopping, QR codes, RF data tags, economic crisis etc etc. And this one could greatly change our shopping experience.

We all know how frustrating it can be trying to find the right size in a pile of jeans, or waiting for an shop assistant to help or just dealing with a grumpy shop assistant. Well this could be the answer.

Hointer is a new retail experience in the US, they are offering a 21st century shopping experience using mobile tech and robots. Awesome.

So you walk into the shop, all the jeans are hanging up in full view. You browse like you would online, take your time to decide on which jeans you want and then when you have found them – you take out mobile phone, scan the QR code on the Hointer app and select the size you want. Now this is the best bit, it tells you on your phone to go to changing room 3 and when you get there a robot in the store room has found your jeans and sent them down a chute into your changing room. Love it.

Watch the video at geekwire, my favourite bit is when the presenter says “automagically” delivered into your changing room. Automagical – its a real word!

So what does this mean for retail?

Well, the first and obvious one is less staff. Online retail is highly competitive in part because of not carrying staff costs. This could be exactly the same. The security guard at the shopping mall could open the shop up in the morning, turn on the lights and then not have to do anything else until shutting the shop in the evening. The items on display are secured so there is no need to worry about shoplifting. You don’t need to worry about shutting the shop when the assistant needs to go to the loo.

There are then many knock on effects that shopping mall owners should consider. This is an opportunity to continue to get punters to their malls, as good and as cheap as online shopping but you can experience the touch and feel rather than just the look. Combine that with the shopping centre being a destination – fun, community focused and multi-purposeful and there might be a chance to get that automagical feeling.

4 Comments on “Sunday Morning Disruptive Technology – Robot Shop Assistant

  1. Hmmm… First two things that come to mind: 1) less staff, less jobs, more unemployment, more state burden, more social challenge… 2) human being being replaced by a machine that requires more of our limited natural resources to manufacture, power, maintain… Is this another case of novelty overtaking better business sense? Customer service and personal attention are the drivers of good business; faceless mechanised trade is devoid of human contact, that helpful sales associate that helps you choose a better cut, or a introduces something you wouldn’t have thought of that’s better, more fit for purpose, and sometimes lasts longer. But I’m sure that the tongue is somewhere in the cheek, subtly within the undertones here Simon, no? You can’t seriously be in favour of this? Novel, yes. Kinda cool in a sci-fi occasional hit of techno-fun, sure. But a satisfactory model for wide scale rollout, I sincerely hope not… Thank you for bringing it to our attention though!

    • You make some good points, but one i think alas has already passed. The replacement of assistants with robots – there are already self serve robots at supermarkets and many people chose to stand in a longer self serve line than a human operated one – don’t know why but they seem to. The whole notion of service has changed with greater automation – I still feel awkward at the reaction i get when i pass my credit card to the shop assistant after they have said “that will be $20.95” and they point at the machine with a ‘why are you expecting me to do it’ look. The only thing that I now don’t do is scan the barcode, there is no human interaction so I might as well stand in the robot self serve queue.

      So if I may conveniently ignore the 1) unemployment implications for the moment, in the same way we conveniently ignore the too many people of the planet discussions, and look at it from a footprint perspective then in a very un-humanistic way 2) a robot would have a lower cradle to cradle impact than I would – food, healthcare, consumerism, travel, commute to work etc etc! As well as not needing airconditioning and lighting in the store rooms because robots don’t have the same comfort expectations as we do.

      Yes I believe the welfare of individuals is more, if not as important, as living within the means of one planet. But if a robot can deliver the need to clothe people in a more resource efficient way than a person can should we take advantage of that to reduce our total impact on the planet? And if we do what happens to the people that are currently providing that service? Can they be employed elsewhere, should we all work 4 days a week instead of 5 and generate 20% more jobs? Ouch, this getting too hard for a Sunday afternoon?

      What do you think? If a robot can do it more resource efficiently over its lifetime compared to a person should we let the robot do it and find another way of resolving unemployment?

      • Excellent points well made! And it’s certainly worth mentioning the population issue, which is much more widely discussed in the UK. There are, no doubt, certain shops that would benefit from automation, and those particular till clerks that are nothing more that warm blooded automatons are frustrating indeed. Yet there is something palatable about the argument of mechanism-vs-human life cycle impacts and cradle-to-cradle resource usage. At least something to think about beyond Sunday! Thanks again!

      • The larger lifecycle impacts is something that has always interested me. For example, I have always wondered what the comparative impact would be of the complete lifecycle of obesity in the sense of ongoing healthcare versus the impact of preventative healthcare associated with eating more healthily and exercise. So would we be better off subsidizing healthy food to make it comparatively priced to fast food to benefit the economy and the planet in the long run?

        As we get closer to the energy-water-food security nexus the type of questions you asked will become more common and more considered.

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