How Humans Beat Robots in Retail Sales

Robots and automation continue to impact the retail world. Learn how adding a human touch can lead to superior customer service.

Published on 27 July, 2017 | Last modified on 1 November, 2022
Robots in retail 1

The growing trend toward business automation is hard to ignore. Establishments such as schools, restaurants, and even banks are becoming increasingly reliant upon robots and computers instead of physically-present human beings. This story is no different for retailers.

However, there is an advantage to going against the grain as retail automation becomes more common.

To date, there are still things that human beings can accomplish better than robots and computers. While in some cases it may be more costly to secure a human worker rather than a robotic one, having the human element may be the difference between a one-time browser and a repeat purchaser, for certain industries and customer demographics.


Most computers can store and recall basic information like purchase amounts, customer contact, and credit card information, and addresses of past customers. But this doesn’t help develop a relationship with a customer while they are shopping.
When an employee follows up on the customer’s life, it gives the impression that someone cares about what happens to them outside of the store and purchase transaction.
This emphasizes the idea that the customer is valued and is not “just a number.”
Asking questions like, “How did Lauren like that bracelet?” or, “Is your laptop inventory low after those thefts at the apartment complex on your street?” helps people perceive the business as their go-to choice rather than another option in the area.
The draw for them won’t be to inventory or price, but the overall experience of shopping at a store where people recognize and acknowledge them as multi-faceted human beings.

Humans beat robots


Automation tends to lag in communicating verbally with customers in a natural-sounding manner.
For example, it can be difficult for a computer to comprehend that a name like “Andrea” is pronounced differently for different people, even though it may be spelled exactly the same in each case. Knowing that one customer is “Awn-dray-ah,” while another is “Ann-dree-uh”. Being able to apply that information in social situations is far beyond what the average retail software is capable of. This is a little touch of customization that computers can’t fake, but humans do instinctively in most cases.
Pronouncing a customer’s name the correct way – especially if they are used to people (and machines) pronouncing it incorrectly – can go a long way toward building a strong relationship.
This relationship and effort to create a comfortable, familiar customer encounter is what will keep people coming back over time. Plus, this notion can be applied to business names, titles, model names and even product names.

Common Usage

Language also comes into play during purchasing interactions, especially for colloquialisms, slang, puns, jokes, and other non-standardized forms of verbal communication.
The ability to use language to increase a customer’s level of happiness (topical references, nicknames, etc.) and comfort (copying slang and idioms customers use) throughout the shopping, product education, consultation and purchasing process strengthens the likelihood that they will remain loyal to the company.
In any business, standing out for the right reasons is key to staying ahead of the competition. When customers notice companies standing out from the “automation” crowd and providing a superior customer service experience, they will likely spend their money with that company once again.

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