These little robots are the latest in-store marketing craze in SA

  • Jacobs Coffee in South Africa has managed to increase its sales significantly through experimental marketing.
  • The company has hired little shelf-mounted robots that offer coffee to passing shoppers at Checkers stores.
  • The “shelfobot” can be programmed via app, and it has motion sensors to track customers as they stop by.

We never quite know what will make its way through to our inbox. We have written about some strange things in the past, like the mammoth ball of 2023 – a lab-generated piece of flesh that tastes like woolly mammoth. Usually, these things happen far away from South Africa, but today we received a local story, one that piqued our curiosity.

You see, there’s a new craze in on-shelf marketing at groceries around the world, and it has found its way to Checkers in South Africa. It is the “shelfobot,” a little robot that hands products to shoppers as they pass by.

The robot is now being used by Jacobs, the coffee people, and we received a statement that really got us thinking. According to Jacobs representatives, using the shelfobot to offer Jacobs containers to passing shoppers actually managed to increase unit sales by 39.4 percent compared to a year prior.

In total, the Jacobs shelfobot campaign saw value sales increase by 61 percent compared to last year as it was rolled out across a variety of South African malls. The marketing stunt was particularly successful in Roodepoort, representatives say, with a 78.1 percent value sales change compared to the same time last year.

It could also be the fact that Jacobs is always on special at Checkers which increased sales, or that the company is now offering R1 million in prizes, or that South Africans desperately want more coffee right now. There are several factors at play here.

Would you take a floating coffee?

“Mmmm… Jacobs Coffee, and one million Rand in prizes to be won. Now that’s wunderbar!” the little robot arm says to passing shoppers at Checkers.

The Tokinomo robot, naked.

The little machines are made and sold by a company called Tokinomo, and don’t let anyone ever tell you that your idea is stupid as what essentially boils down to a robot arm attached to a speaker are being installed in shops around the world, with more than 2 500 robots currently active.

Tokinomo, based in New York, says its shelfobots can boost sales on average by 125 percent, “without reducing the price of the products.” The company has worked with P&G, Nivea, Coca-Cola, Lays and Vodafone in the past.

The shelfobot has motion detection to play its advert when a shopper stops in front of it, to “create a spontaneous interaction that generates immediate interest and engagement.” Audio messages can also be prerecorded, while the robots themselves are connected wirelessly to Tokinomo’s data servers, which means settings can changed remotely whenever via mobile app.

While they are definitely interesting in a marketing sense, and more so in a psychological sense that all people need to buy your product is for you to make it float a bit about their faces, we hope there never comes a day when every aisle in Checkers has multiple floating robot arms, with myriad voices barking prerecorded adverts at you.

While robots used in retail are no longer as niche as they were in years past, we still have to say: retailers, make sure to advertise responsibly.


About Author


Related News