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Meet Pepper, the Robot That’s Going to Revolutionize Stores

Retailers are trying all manner of tactics to lure today’s consumer, but the answer may lie in humanoid robotics—and one humanoid robot in particular: Pepper.

The brainchild of Aldebaran Robotics, this moving, talking, reactive robot is bringing consumers into stores, perceiving their emotions, telling them about new products and making recommendations based on the individual consumer. Pepper can even collect consumer feedback and data if programmed to.

And it’s making shopping fun again, more importantly. Pepper can recognize faces, speak, hear and move around on its own. It can also evolve with you, as Pinterest might, memorizing preferences, personality traits and adapting to tastes and habits.

“Based on your voice, the expression on your face, your body movements and the words you use, Pepper will interpret your emotion and offer appropriate content,” Aldebaran explains. “He will also respond personally to the mood of the moment, expressing himself through the color of his eyes, his tablet or his tone of voice.”

Standing on the stage at NRF’s Big Show, Pepper himself told the audience, “I can be quite the attention getter.”

Seven thousand Peppers have already been deployed in Japan, many in SoftBank mobile stores where the bot welcomes customers and explains new promotions, all the while amusing everyone.

“Pleasant and likeable, Pepper is much more than a robot, he is a genuine humanoid companion created to communicate with you in the most natural and intuitive way, through his body movements and his voice,” the company’s website notes.

Another 1,000 of the robot are in markets across Europe, and as it has been working on building a distribution network and repair system, Aldebaran is getting ready for North America.

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Having Pepper for personalized fashion shopping not far off either. In a video during the presentation, Aldebaran showed Pepper interacting with a shopper in a store. The bot greeted the consumer, who used her mobile phone to let Pepper scan her size and measurement data stored there, then used Pepper to scan a tag on a dress to learn more about it.

Pepper provided additional product info and then, consulting the consumers’ recently shared body measurements, told the shopper the dress wouldn’t be flattering on her. Pepper then populated three alternative suggestions for the shopper that flashed on his attached flat screen.

But Pepper isn’t the retail worker’s newest rival, the robot is meant to supplement the store experience.

“The way you want to think about Pepper right now is to augment the experience, not replace anybody,” Steve Carlin, VP of business development for Aldebaran, said.

Humanoid robots are beating out other bots and retail technologies because they pull consumers in, if even just for curiosity. Pepper’s semi-human body language makes interactions seem even more natural.

According to Carlin, “Humanoid robots are really new and engaging and really shaping the retail environment.”

The question in retail today should be: How do you create an environment where you’re not selling, but helping consumers to buy? And robots like Pepper may be the answer.

Pepper is proactive, can call out to people and, in that way, works better than a passive kiosk might, Carlin said. The bot can also tell how many people are engaging with a display and whether those engagements were strong because it can identify emotion.

Nescafe in Japan has started using Pepper to recommend the right coffee maker based on a consumer’s coffee drinking habits and Carrefour is using the robot to tell shoppers about its loyalty program.

Pepper can be fully autonomous or connected to the cloud and continuously pulling data from it, and it can be fully customized to create a tailored brand experience for the customer. And if a brand wants Pepper to make product recommendations based on current inventory levels, it can be programmed to do that too. Aldebaran works with a brand’s IT and operations teams to make sure Pepper works with the needs of the organization.

“We want to make sure it’s not disruptive, but additive,” Carlin said.