Say hello to Anna, a virtual greeter who offers a glimpse into the future of retailing.
Anna is a 5-foot 8-inch (in heels) life-like digital image projected in a glass tower at the heart of the Bay’s flagship downtown Toronto store, welcoming passersby and explaining its new interactive display of high-end gifts.The department store’s test of the svelte virtual employee, whose talking is prompted by sensors in the ceiling when people approach her, is among an array of high-tech initiatives that retailers are starting to embrace to help cut costs and pump up business.
As merchants compete against deep-pocketed global titans, they’re being forced to look for digital and automated alternatives to buttress operations. Retailers such as clothier Gap Inc. and office supplies specialist Staples are already staffing their warehouses with thousands of robots, while a growing number of chains are moving their customers through self-checkouts using just a fraction of the labour that they otherwise would. Some foreign chains, such as Stop & Shop, even hand shoppers scanners to do the work themselves in the aisles before they bag their groceries at the checkout.
Not all the techno-tests have sailed through flawlessly – some grocers have dropped self-checkouts because of errors and customer disinterest, while digital efforts themselves can require big investments. But retailers such as the Bay are hunting for even more ways to make the shopping spree entertaining, create a buzz and boost the bottom line.
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