hree years ago, I needed a
new car. I’d done my research,
knew exactly the make and
model I wanted, and was at the
dealership only for a test-drive
before signing the paperwork.
Then the salesman spent our
entire ride explaining that this
car was tops among soccer
moms, and that it was so easy to
drive, I wouldn’t have to beg my husband for help. I liked the
car. But the experience so infuriated me that I didn’t buy it.
Shrewd sales associates know how to read and interpret all
the data—body language, mood, extroversion—that customers
bring. But too many times salespeople misread cues, fail
to listen, or steer customers toward something that makes
no sense. Soon, though, you’ll be encountering new sales
associates—ultra-smart, focused on you, attentive to your tastes
and preferences. They’ll know what you’ve purchased in the
past. They’ll predict what you’re likely to want next. They may
even speak in a voice that sounds a lot like yours.
They’re digital associates, similar to the digital assistants
you already know—Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant—but programmed with diferent objectives. In the form of roaming
robots, smart kiosks, and augmented-reality mirrors, they’ll
start showing up in shops over the next two years—or sooner.
They could help save such shops as physical retail continues to sufer in an era of never-ending online choices.
Consider what happened when Japanese tech giant SoftBank
deployed its Pepper robot in a few shops in California. Pepper
was charged with greeting customers and answering their
questions. One of the Pepper-equipped shops reported a
70 percent increase in foot trafc, a 13 percent increase in
revenue, and six times the average sales of a featured product.
At a custom print apparel store, Pepper generated 20 percent
more foot trafc—and tripled revenue. That’s because, like all
digital associates, Pepper isn’t just a transactional device. It’s a
system that truly knows the customer, thanks to its technical
ability to recognize and interpret human emotion. S H A Y A
82● INC. ● JUNE 2018 ● ● ●● ● ●
AMY WEBB b LEADING EDGE
Salesperson Will Be
With You in a Moment
The technology that just might save brick-and-mortar retail.
(@amywebb) is an
author and futurist
and the founder of the
Future Today Institute,
a leading forecasting
and strategy frm.
Meanwhile, some MAC cosmetics stores have installed
augmented-reality mirrors so customers can try out diferent
makeup looks without worrying about sharing lipsticks and
mascaras with strangers. Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo
deploys an AR mirror that lets customers see a full range of
colors for various articles of clothing, simply by swiping
through options on a screen. SenseMi Technology Solutions’
virtual ftting-room mirror shows how clothing will move once
it’s on, thus helping a customer determine whether a dress is
too short or low-cut without ever having to put it on. Early this
year, Amazon patented an AR mirror that allows customers to
try on clothing virtually and see themselves dressed for diferent occasions: walking on a beach, dancing at a gala, interviewing with a potential boss. As these systems mature, they’ll
store personal details—body type, style profle. And Chinese
tech giant Alibaba’s Ant Financial unit now lets customers
“smile to pay,” via an ordering and payment system that uses
algorithms and 3-D face-scanning cameras to recognize them.
All this will come in handy in a clothing shop or a grocery
store, but what about bigger purchases—like a car? Within the
next fve years, half of all interactions we have with machines
will be in the form of a conversation—and companies will soon
have the chance to develop their own synthetic voices. A San
Francisco startup, Voicery, is developing a speech synthesis
system that mimics emotion, can convey charisma and warmth,
and modulates to a tone that best suits each customer. One day, a
digital associate—capable of interpreting my personal data—will
come along when I decide to test-drive a car, and it won’t assume
that I am primarily driving kids to soccer practice. It will tell me
about sport mode, and how to customize the onboard computer—
and that dealership will make a sale.