Mark Tanner
6 April 2022 0 Comments

If you’re living in a developed country, there’s a chance you may have seen a few robots since the pandemic began. In the US, labour shortages, coupled with robots being covid-free has driven the recent adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered robots for everything from coffee delivery to making fresh, hot pizzas and customised hamburgers in minutes from deep inside a vending machine.

Across the Pacific in China, the last few years have brought evolutions of delivery robots and restaurants where robots prepare, cook and deliver food, but also everything from ‘highly efficient auto throat swab robots’ running Covid tests to parlours full of AI robots automating the ‘oldest profession in the world’. But it is a different type of robot that has been making the headlines over the past few weeks in China.

In a Shanghai aquarium, crowds have been wooed by an incredibly realistic-looking 4.7 metre long robot whale shark swimming amongst the real fish. It is raising awareness for the endangered giant, without needing to keep one captive.

Out of the water, there are other animal-inspired robots looking much more Mad Max than National Geographic. Futuristic robot canine pets are becoming more common on Chinese streets and social media. Xiaomi’s Cyberdog, currently still in testing mode, can go for walks alongside its owner at almost 12km/hour. It responds to commands and can do tricks, such as backflips. Although one short video of the ‘pet’ received over 700,000 likes, and walks along the river in Shanghai drew a lot of attention, many online commentators don’t believe the robot – in its current metallic form anyway – has what it takes to be a ‘man’s best friend.’ But officials clearly find it helpful, with loudspeakers strapped onto backs of robot dogs with emergency tape, broadcasting covid safety messages in Omicron-hit Shanghai.

Pooch-replacement or not, the canine robot and others are symbolic of the robot trend accelerating in China. For companies, it represents opportunities to enhance the experience and allure of your brand, and in many cases, increase efficiencies.

Experience centres have been a strong trend in China for close to a decade, but they have come into their own since Chinese life returned to relative normality in mid-2020. Bricks & mortar stores have had to work harder to provide an experience that will lure consumers back from their smartphones. Successful physical stores have provided an experience that is difficult to match virtually. Centres have become much more than just shops selling things. They are more of a ‘service centre’, providing an interactive place, a learning space, and a community space that connects consumers with peers and the brand.

Robots can play a part in this. Many Chinese consumers love tech and gadgetry, and look positively on brands which provide them with tangible innovative experiences. A recent survey from Wunderman Thompson found 58% of Chinese consumers are excited about in-store experiences enhanced by AI – which can include AI-driven robots. Just 36% in the US and 27% in the UK felt the same way. Similarly, 66% of Chinese consumers liked the idea of AI supporting quick and effective customer services, versus 45% in the US and 30% in Britain.

Although AI and robots present countless exciting opportunities for brands in China, it isn’t always successful. Despite the hype around 2017, unmanned stores were largely a flop in the market.

The retail experience – with or without robots – is something that China Skinny follows closely. Contact us to learn more about how our insights and experience can optimise your physical and digital touch points with consumers.

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