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In or out? A field observational study on the placement of entertaining robots in retailing

Laurens De Gauquier (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium)
Malaika Brengman (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium)
Kim Willems (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium) (Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium)
Hoang-Long Cao (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium) (Flanders Make, Brussel, Belgium)
Bram Vanderborght (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussel, Belgium) (IMEC, Brussels, Belgium)

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 27 May 2021

Issue publication date: 8 July 2021




The purpose of this paper is to empirically investigate the role of the placement (i.e. location) of humanoid service robots (HSRs) for entertainment applications in retailing by inspecting a multitude of performance metrics along the point-of-sale conversion funnel.


The study was conducted using unobtrusive observations at a Belgian chocolate store. In total, 42 h of video observation material was collected and analyzed, with an even spread over three conditions: (1) an HSR placed outside, (2) an HSR inside the store and (3) a control condition (no robot stimuli). All passersby and their interactions with the robot and the store were systematically coded and compared.


The study found that the better placement of HSRs (inside or outside the store) is contingent on the goals the retailer prioritizes. When the goal is to create awareness and interest toward the store, the HSR should be placed outside, as it has double the stopping power. To induce consumers to enter the store, placement of the HSR inside the store is the better option. Ultimately, however, in terms of the number of transactions and total amount spent, outside placement of the HSR outperforms inside placement.

Research limitations/implications

This study was not able to verify the internal emotional/cognitive state of the passersby, as the method relied on unobtrusive camera observations. A longitudinal research design would be desirable to exclude potential bias due to the novelty effect.


While research on robots in retail services is emerging, this study is the first to provide insights on how retailers can decide on the placement of robots inside or outside the store, depending on the particular goals they are aiming to reach at the point of purchase.



De Gauquier, L., Brengman, M., Willems, K., Cao, H.-L. and Vanderborght, B. (2021), "In or out? A field observational study on the placement of entertaining robots in retailing", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 49 No. 7, pp. 846-874.



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