Remote Retail: Avatar Robots Are Great At Selling Art. Now, What Else Can They Do?
When the coronavirus crisis closed Dmitry Prut’s Avant art galleries in Miami and New York’s Hudson Yards, he took remote selling to a new level, with robots that buyers control remotely from their laptops or mobile devices.
The robots have turned out to be pretty good salespeople. They helped close two major transactions – the sale of a $70,000 sculpture, and a $80,000 commission for a second sculpture – and led to sales of several paintings worth five figures.
They could prove to be the future of high-end selling, as retailers in formerly high-touch categories look for high-tech ways to connect with customers.
A remote test drive of the robot at the Hudson Yards gallery showed it to be the kind of technology that would work well in high end furniture stores, car dealerships, designer showrooms, luxury real estate, and other businesses where customers typically get lots of one-on-one, personal attention, but that customers now can’t visit in person.
Robots for doctors visits, remote graduation
The robots, which look like taller, skinnier, and more fashionable versions of Wall-e, the star of the Disney Pixar movie, are designed to serve as “avatars” for the buyers, letting the buyer virtually enter the same space as the robot, remotely stroll through a gallery, and get up-close, life-size views of works of art.
The robots have an iPad-like screen attached that displays the buyer “driving” the robot remotely, and lets staff in the gallery interact with the buyer as if on a FaceTime call. Here’s a YouTube video of the robot in action.
The robots, often referred to as telepresence robots, have been used pre-pandemic for doctor’s visits, or to allow disabled persons to remotely visit museums. Now they are being put to new uses, like graduations, with one Japanese university dressing the robots in graduation robes, and collecting diplomas while the actual graduates participated remotely.
The robots “allow us to connect with our audience in a whole new way, and leaves them with an unprecedented experience,” Prut said. “It’s also fun, as they get to cruise the robot around the gallery like it’s a video game, except it’s live and takes place in a real physical setting,” he said. “It’s like teleporting to another place and being there telephysically.”
Prut was looking for ways to provide “telephysical” experiences in his galleries long before the coronavirus crisis hit, and he now expects the robots will be a permanent part of his business, even after retail restrictions and stay-at-home order are lifted.
The robots, created by OhmniLabs, are also used in telemedicine, and Avant’s robot order, placed before the pandemic began, was delayed as medical uses were given top priority.
A gallery client and art collector, Jeff Ransdell, is an investor in OhmniLabs and connected Avant with the tech firm, Prut said.
Potential buyers make appointments for a tour, and connect with the robot via an emailed link. At the gallery, a human staffer is available to answer any questions about the painting, or help if the buyer has trouble navigating the robot.
Thus far, the Miami gallery, which has had a robot in use since April, has given about a dozen remote tours. One tour resulted in the sale of a $70,000 Will Kurtz sculpture, and an additional $80,000 commission for Kurtz.