Robot allows local shoppers to browse stores from safety of home

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Many people are turning to online shopping now more than ever and stores are coming up with creative ways to make those sales. It’s not just apps and websites, but also robots you can browse a store from home with.

It seems “futuristic,” but one local shop is already seeing success.

Many don’t feel safe going into a store to shop and the alternative may often include shopping online, then picking up curbside or having your purchase delivered. But how about browsing a showroom floor using a robot?

Customers are using “Chester,” the robot at “COCOCO Home” to browse the showroom floor in Cornelius. It allows customers to drive it remotely, to look at what they’re buying in more detail.

Store owner, Steve Secrest, showed Channel 9 how it works.

“We’re able to show them leather colors and fabric colors,” he explained.

He said it completely changed his customers’ virtual experience.

“We’re not just talking to them, we are with them in a real sense. There’s a real presence to it,” said Secrest.

Chester also helped Channel 9 Anchor Blaine Tolison with a virtual interview with Dr. Thuc Vu, CEO of OHMNI Labs from Silicon Valley where the robot is made. He said thousands are being used around the world for shopping, inspecting vehicles, and in healthcare settings.

“The user has full control of the robot. You can look all the way up or all the way down. You can turn around on the robot, so it’s actually very easy for the user,” said Dr. Vu.

But would people use something like this in big box stores too? Shoppers who spoke with Channel 9 had mixed feelings.

Caleb Higdon who was shopping at the Lowe’s store in Huntersville was open to the idea.

“It depends on what you’re getting. If you want something really specific and there’s variation in the product,” said Higdon.

Jessica Ransom feels like you can’t get the same experience as seeing or even getting to feel a product for yourself.

“I want to be able to go to the store and see what I’m going to get,” said Ransom.

Mooresville-based Lowe’s is already testing robots but hasn’t said anything about someday using one to shop. The company already uses a customer service robot the company named. “Lowebot.” It’s essentially a virtual assistant with an autonomous capability to drive through the store to help customers who shop in person.

Even if plans don’t include a robot at Lowe’s, the company is spending $1.7 billion next year on changing store layouts to make them more appealing to customers and to create more options for customers to shop.

Secrest said Chester has done more for his business than he ever imagined.

“It allows them to understand us and where we’re coming from as a company and build trust, and it helps us understand who they are,” he said.

The OHMNI Labs robot runs around $2,000, but Secrest says it’s helping them turn a profit and he may get more robots; even when the pandemic is finally behind us.