Domo Arigato, Lowe’s, for Using Robots
It’s not April Fool’s Day!
Just before the holidays, Lowe's really is introducing two robotic shopping assistants at one of its Orchard Supply Hardware stores in San Jose, Calif.
According to a press release from the home improvement retailer, the autonomous robots — called OSHbots — were developed by Fellow Robots, a technology company that specializes in the design and development of autonomous service robots, in partnership with Lowe's own Innovation Labs.
OSHbots will answer questions from shoppers and help them navigate stores by directing them to specific products and providing real-time information about product promotions and inventory. Shoppers will also be able to use the OSHbot's 3-D camera to scan an item brought from home (e.g., a nail) to see where it can be found in-store or online.
In the coming months, OSHbots will communicate with shoppers in multiple languages and remotely connect with expert employees at other Orchard Supply stores to answer specific project questions.
“Using science fiction prototyping, we explored solutions to improve customer experiences by helping customers quickly find the products and information they came in looking for,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, in the company press release. “As a result, we developed autonomous retail service robot technology to be an intuitive tool customers can use to ask for help, in their preferred language, and expect a consistent experience.”
Lowe's said the OSHbots will provide an additional layer of support to salespeople by helping customers with simple questions, enabling more time for sales associates to focus on delivering project expertise.
"What our sales associates are amazing at doing and what they love spending time on are consulting and helping customers with their projects and solving their problems," said Nel in an Advertising Age article. "We can let the robots answer questions like, ‘Where are the hammers?’"
So, are robots the future of retail customer service?
That depends on many factors, most importantly how well Lowe's current test performs. According to the Ad Age article, Lowe’s has no additional rollout plans for OSHbots as of now. Basically, the company wants to test the robots in the real world to see how they interact with people before adding them to other stores.
"The big unknown is the human component," said Nel. "We have the technology that works really well, but there's some basic questions that there's just no way to answer until you actually view it."
This isn't the first we’ve seen robots used as customer service tools. In August, for example, Starwood Hotels & Resorts introduced a room-service robot at its Aloft hotel in Cupertino, Calif.
According to an article in TechCrunch, the robotic butlers perform tasks in the front and back of the house, as well as navigate around guests and use elevators. The "Botlrs" as they're called will be delivering amenities to guest rooms in lieu of actual humans, “freeing up existing worker's time and allowing them to create a more personalized experience for guests.”
For example, when a guest calls down and asks for a toothbrush or extra towels, hotel employees simply load up a Botlr with the requested items, dial in the room number, and the robot handles the rest.
What do you think about this latest technology innovation? Are robots a bona fide customer service improvement or a fad? Let us know by leaving a comment below!