Photo/Illutration Customers controlling avatar robots can shop while getting explanations from staff members at the “avatar-in store” in Coredo Muromachi 3 in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward on Dec. 4. (Keiko Nannichi)

It's one thing to shop online, but what if you could interface with a robot inside a shop and browse the offerings?

Well, now you can.

ANA Holdings Inc., the operator of All Nippon Airways Co., has teamed with department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Ltd. to open a shop in Tokyo that customers can visit remotely using an avatar robot, said to be the first of its kind in the world.

No flesh-and-blood customers allowed.

"avatar-in store," located in the Coredo Muromachi 3 shopping facility in the Nihonbashi district, was unveiled to the media on Dec. 4, the day before the opening.

When a customer "enters" the shop using a dedicated website, the user's face appears on a screen on the avatar robot. Customers can move around the shop using the wheeled robot, ask questions to Isetan Mitsukoshi staff members and have items shown to them.

Thirty-one Isetan gift items are available, including various sweets and snacks. Purchased goods are sent using a delivery service.

Shoppers need to register in advance for the service, which is available by reservation.

With avatars able to shop on behalf of humans, those who live in areas where there are no department stores nearby and hospitalized people can enjoy shopping, too.

The two companies, which plan to start a full-scale avatar robot service in April 2020, said they would like to open a store for both avatars and the public in the future.

ANA Holdings, which developed the devices, aims to have 1,000 avatar robots running by next summer, hoping they are used not only for remote shopping, but also for providing guidance to customers physically in a shop.

Akira Fukabori, the avatar program director of ANA Holdings, said, “I want to create an avatar world as the next stage of smartphones.”

The "avatar-in store" shop will be open through Dec. 24.

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