You walk into your local Walmart. There may be someone to greet you at the door, yet as you make your way down the aisle, you realize you need help. Within moments a drone flies down from above and hovers in front of you, then leads you to the item you’re trying to find.
Is this real, or is this science fiction?
Yes, it’s real! Walmart has filed a patent for drones to help shoppers in its stores. The way it works is simple. You have your shopping list on a mobile device, such as your mobile phone or a tablet that’s provided by the store. The mobile device communicates with the drone, and it flies over to help you find what you need. The patent application states the following: “If, for example, the user has requested navigation assistance to an item selected from a virtual shopping list on the mobile electronic device, the computing device can control the aerial drone to provide navigation assistance to guide the user to the location of the selected item.”
Drones are the next generation of retail robots and automation interacting with customers to improve their in-store experience. Last year, Lowe’s made the news when it introduced the Lowebot, which helps customers navigate throughout its large stores.
And, Walmart isn’t the only one filing patents for drones that interact with customers. Amazon has filed a patent for a delivery drone that reacts to voice commands and gestures, such as waving arms.
Whether or not these drones or the Lowebot become mainstream is yet to be seen. However, these brands need to push the technology envelope to find ways to better serve their customers, and it appears that robots and drones are part of that new technology.
Is this a good thing? Can robots and drones give the same level of support and service as a person? Perhaps, at some level, a very basic level, technology can enhance the customer’s experience. But that, at least in this author’s opinion is where it stops – at least for today.
I’m not the only one who feels that way. InMoment is a cloud-based customer experience intelligence pioneer that gives brands insights into what will help drive their business. And, it knows that while technology is a powerful tool to enhance and even differentiate the customer experience, human-to-human interactions remain essential. Its 2018 CX Trends Report offers up the proof that humans make or break the customer’s experience. Sixty-five percent of consumers report that “staff interaction” highly influences their decision to buy more from a brand. They appreciate expertise and a friendly experience. Furthermore, positive, memorable experiences are greatly influenced by human interaction, specifically being treated special. That’s hard for a drone or robot to provide.
Dr. Paul Warner, Vice President of Consumer and Employee Insights at InMoment, states, “As artificial intelligence (AI) begins to advance, brands must be more strategic when implementing these new technologies. Today’s consumers do not want to only interact with robots, they also value human connections. Therefore, omitting the human element would not be wise.”
The experience someone gets at Walmart is different than, for example, Nordstrom. Walmart customers don’t expect to find a salesperson at every turn. However, they do expect great selection, good prices and an easy, frictionless experience. Drones and robots can provide that, but what they can’t do is emotionally connect to the customer – at least not yet.
Dr. Warner states, “In today’s digital-first world, it’s all about balancing tech advancements and consumers’ values.”
So, while technology is cool and it may intrigue and even help customers, it should be seen as an enhancement, not a replacement, for the Walmart Greeter and the friendly cashier who sincerely thanks us for our business!