I was intrigued with a story from my colleague Alicia Fiorletta about how Clarins, the cosmetics and fragrance brand, is using virtual assistants. Surely, brands are keeping a close eye on payroll and store staffs have to run lean, but is this the answer, I wondered.
Then I got to thinking about how we’re all becoming more comfortable with semi-human interaction. Doctors are using telepresence robots to roll their virtual selves bedside to check on patients. Articles in Forbes and Slate describe how some companies are using telepresence technology for virtual workers. My 77-year-old father has conversations with Siri on his iPhone.
Clearly, the “virtual goddess” appeals to some shoppers in some retail environments. In my view, what makes the Clarins virtual assistant a winner is that it is not simply a stand-alone gimmick. It is integrated with an entire campaign launching a new fragrance.
I can envision virtual assistants being used in other types of retail environments. Stuck in line at the grocery store, we have all glazed over in front of the digital signage spewing information about new products and recipes. If I actually saw a life-like image describing the product or demonstrating the recipe, I might be more inclined to pay attention. Maybe.
This next-generation digital signage holds some promise, I’ve concluded, if deployed judiciously. The virtual assistant should be pointing shoppers toward something special. If overused, they’ll go the way of the digital messaging systems that are so often ignored.