How long 'til the virtual assistant gets drifted by a real shopper?

July 7, 2011 by Dave Haynes

So how long before someone wanders in off the streets of New York and sucker-punches Duane Reade’s “virtual assistant” inside its new flagship store?

Three days, maybe?

Reports Chain Store Age:

The technology, the Tensator Virtual Assistant, is provided by Lawrence, a Tensator Group Co. Completely customized for Duane Reade, it takes the form of a female greeter who welcomes entering customers and provides information on everything store-related. Currently, the greeter has seven different scripts, each of which speaks to a different store element.

“All seven run on a continuous loop,” explained Keith Carpentier, senior business development manager-retail, Lawrence, a Tensator Group Company, Bay Shore, N.Y.

Carpentier added that an updated, version of the Virtual Assistant is in the works, with more interactive and dynamic capabilities.

Duane Reade is the first retailer to deploy the Virtual Assistant technology. The other commercial applications to date have been in the United Kingdom, at London Luton and Birmingham Airports.

It’s New York. The tourists will love it. The locals will breeze by it. The store staff – who will be within earshot of the continuous loop – may be the first to take a swing.

The velvet ropes meant to keep people back is your first clue as to why this is the first retailer to deploy this tech. It’s interesting and eye-catching, but I’m not sure it is suited for everyday retail. Continuous audio loops have a way of driving people who hear it all day nuts.

The store is wildly different from a typical Duane Reade (there are scores in Manhattan). It has sushi. A juice bar. A hair salon. It is located right on Wall Street in a building owned by Donald Trump.

Which makes me think at least the woman used as the virtual greeter will last longer than if it was Trump doing the welcoming.

Canadian content note for those keeping score: The guy driving this flash and sizzle is company president Joe Magnacca, who came to the chain after running the store design and merchandising at Canada’s Shopper’s Druig Mart and before that, the Canuck grocer Loblaws.

Pix from Chain Store Age and Gothamist (Bethany O’Grady)

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