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HomeOPINIONCreating retail robots

Creating retail robots

Commentator David Farrell invokes George Orwell as he queries whether the digital revolution has gone too far.

A small self-invested group of techies are peddling the notion that computerisation is the only way to go, by replacing unreliable individual attributes with robotic ones. Advocating that the public is okay dealing with androids because it will improve the customer experience. A bleak premise of flickering monitors and invasive soundtracks influencing our every move – leaving us to the grace of the cyborgs with a shopping basket in one hand and our mobiles in the other?

What is next? A workforce monitored by surveillance cameras where their capacity is measured by electronic timepieces and decisions are made by microchips based upon data of a preconceived norm? Where thought is discouraged and Corporate Welfare is greater than the entity. Are we seeing the first stages of a retail world we are warned against seventy years ago in George Orwell’s classic 1984?

“Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.”

Melodramatic? Perhaps.

Possible? Without a doubt.

Fact is, many who have a differing ability or are part of a minority, already face these issues in an industry reluctant to include and embrace diversity in the narrow-minded misconception it may affect profitability.

The major drawbacks are in losing the inspiration that comes from human synergy and a lessening sense of ownership because it can never replicate the stimulant of association or our aspirations for personal growth. Often manipulated by a front of hi-tech bling, the threat of social estrangement and a fear of missing out.

Electronics may (with luck) deliver what they expect with what they invest. People will exceed that expectation multifold including an improved return on investment. Underperformance reflects a culture but is also a ballot of faith in the leadership, not of the singular, as many would like us to believe.

We can use industrialisation as an integral tool for trained and valued personnel for it will never replace the unsurpassable technology of the human being. Nor can automation hope to reproduce the warmth and nuances of intimate interaction. For those on the shop floor, there is evidence of consumer reticence to self-service and talking with monotone androids on screens. The more corporate hides itself behind the void that is the Net the more they invite the competition to step in and serve a warm smile, a handshake or comment on the weather.

There is an inherent disquiet amongst the populace at the sectors constant and blatant preoccupation for mechanisation over interaction. Business needs to be cognisant of the power of the people’s voice we were part of and saw this past week in our beloved New Zealand. A defiant outpouring of emotion and determination to do what is right. And the resolve to take action, by a nation and its leader, incensed by the evil act of a lowlife.

Humans thrive on trial and error and we love the folly of new toys and experiences until such time they no longer stimulate our intrinsic needs. Retailers who ignore human nature do so at their peril and should be mindful retail is and always will be, about people, for people, by the people.

“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.” 1984 – George Orwell (1948)

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