The Robotic Telco Store (No Humans) - Will It Happen?

Pepper the robot assistant handing something to a man in a suit

Regular readers of this blog may be aware of the concept of the “Digidextrous” retail store. This is a tech-enabled retail playground that is responsive, intuitive and adapts to the customer so their journey is as seamless as possible.

This is the Holy Grail of retail right now. Telcos are scrambling to become “Digital” and transform their aging legacy systems into modern, adaptive interfaces that are capable of giving a single view of the customer across all touchpoints.

I’ve long espoused the value of Telcos doing this NOW, and in case you missed the original article, you can find it [HERE]

This is very near term. The tech is almost ALL here now, and this is how Telco/Cable companies should be retailing right now.

This is very near term. The tech is almost ALL here now, and this is how Telco/Cable companies should be retailing right now.

Will No Humans Happen?

Now, get your head into Blade Runner mode, and imagine a world where the intuitive store sells for you, and doesn’t require any humans to run it…will that ever happen?

It’s a topic I am being increasingly asked to speak about. Before I answer the question, let’s explore the factors driving the march towards this utopian/dystopian ideal.

1) Brick and Mortar is expensive, distribution is now cheap, so I don’t need a huge estate anymore

This is true! Where telcos would once follow the Coca-Cola model of distribution and have stores in every mall and on every high street, some customers no longer need to visit a telco. And since demand for replacing/changing your device has also fallen, the need for telcos to be as close to customers is lower. So, the trend is to carefully trim your estate, and ensure a balanced strategy of experiential flagships, easy-to-access neighborhood stores, and flexible pop-up stores designed to in-fill coverage and assist events where required. Hence, telcos will require (slightly) less stores than before.

2) Labour is becoming more and more expensive, so trimming numbers in retail helps the ROI

This has always been the case, however the rise of tech and AI means we can become much more efficient. Our systems (should) enable FAST transactions, and the best telcos have a sweet multi-channel approach to service that should reduce the amount of in-store traffic; customer issues, for example, are pushed to social and contact centres with a seamless two-way delivery system. So, there is a big drive from CFO’s to stop headcount swelling.

3) Tech is becoming cheaper, more accepted, and more effective

Every year, processors get faster, cheaper and the mass-production of tech items is now the norm. Years ago, spending $20k on a self-service machine would be prohibitive as the uptake was low, and the experience was questionable. Today, this is encouraged. The ROI can be driven in less than 2 years with a great NPS experience AND you get to remove a cashier (long term) from the store. Robots are taking over? You bet!

4) Customers are demanding experience – nothing is more rewarding than cool tech that works!

Everyone is using tech nowadays. Even the bed retailer that uses pressure sensors to measure your ‘spread’ (really!) and then uses an interactive screen in front of you to recommend the best bed for your poor back!

The grocery store asks you to scan and pack your own items. The clothing retailer uses AI to show you what the next colour would look like in the mirror. The shoe store measures your child’s foot to get a custom size to stop raised arches and flat feet. I could go on, but tech is providing entertainment in retail – and customer’s LOVE IT!

So, Will It Happen?

So, will these factors deliver a truly digital only store, sans humans?

Yes, they could? Yes, they might! One thing for sure is that it is POSSIBLE – today, right now, to do it for a major telecoms provider looking to make the leap to being truly digital.

I know as I’m helping a few – TODAY – all over the globe! The systems are here, right now:

  • Paperless Contract Solutions.
  • Fast transactions from a tablet right on the floor.
  • Vending machines that provision SIMS in <2 minutes.
  • Super Vends that hold stock of devices and accessories.
  • Self Service Machines that can process simple service transactions & bill payments.
  • Robotic Greeters and automatic queue systems.
  • AR solutions that bring your products to life.
  • VR solutions that allow for an immersive experience.
  • Applications that control your path through a store and guide you.
  • Auto-download solutions that interact with your tech.

I could go on and on.

These systems are here today, and only the ambitious are putting these together to showcase their digital aspirations and capability. Well done and bravo to you (you know who you are!)

A Golden Bullet?

However…is this the golden bullet that will instantly grab market share and transform your profitability? No!

These stores will appear over the next 1-5 years across the world, and the clever telcos will use them as incubators that drive features that work into their main estates on a regular basis.

In 5-10 years, they will become common in big cities; 24-hour metropolis style stores where you can come, experience, buy, and go. Just like that.

However, it will take a LONG TIME to fully replace a human. Can a robot (even an enhanced AI bot) truly have a conversation about a new product and how it works with a customer with a very strong accent for example? I doubt it.

[CONTACT ME] If you’d like to know more about the Digital Store of the Future.

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