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SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper is improving sales at brick-and-mortar stores

Turns out people like to shop with robots.


SoftBank, the Japanese company recently in the news for a meeting between its CEO and Donald Trump and its promise to invest $50 billion into U.S. tech companies, has been working to bring its humanoid robot Pepper to American markets for the past year.

And after launching a few pilots with Pepper helping customers in California retail stores in 2016, SoftBank says the robot actually pays off.

In one pilot at B8ta, a tech retail shop in Palo Alto where Pepper worked customer service for a week-long stint last August, SoftBank says the store clocked a 70 percent increase in foot traffic. At another pilot at a B8ta in Santa Monica in December, the store reported a 13 percent increase in revenue and a six-fold increase in sales of a featured product, according to SoftBank.


Pepper was also put to work for a few days last year at The Ave, a new custom print apparel store on the University of Southern California campus. With the robot there to greet shoppers, The Ave saw a three-times jump in revenue, and foot traffic into the store increased by 20 percent, says SoftBank.

Despite the robot’s five-fingered hands, chest-mounted screen and responsive eyes, Pepper can’t do much with its body beyond gesture with its arms and roll around on the floor. But that doesn’t mean the humanoid isn’t useful.

Pepper can be programmed to chat with customers, answer questions and give directions. It’s not much different from what a touchpad kiosk or a tabletop assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa, is capable of. Except that with Pepper, there’s a robot in front of customers that can dance, look around, play music, light up, blush and, importantly, take a cool selfie with passersby.

Its creators claim it can tell if you’re happy or sad, and can detect by the tone of your voice if there’s a problem.

SoftBank says there are already over 10,000 Pepper robots in use around the world, including at a Pizza Hut in Singapore, on cruise ships and even in homes across Japan.

Here’s Pepper in action in a one-on-one with Recode at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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