The album peaked at #30 on the US Albums chart and #8 on the US R&B chart, a modest commercial success in comparison both to the Diana Ross project and their previous albums, most likely due to the so-called "anti-disco backlash". Though in spite of the backlash, all of the album cuts peaked at #29 on the American dance charts.
In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau deemed Real People a better record than Chic's Risqué (1979), even though it lacked a song as great as "Good Times". "Jumpy, scintillating rhythms fuse with elegantly abrasive textures for a funk that's not light but sharp", he wrote. "Plus post-chic words that go with the attention-grabbing heat and invention of Nile Rodgers's postrock guitar." In his year-end list for the Pazz & Jop critics poll, Christgau named it the 15th best album of 1980.AllMusic's Alex Henderson was less impressed in a retrospective review, calling Real People a satisfactory effort but inessential, highlighted by "Rebels Are We", "I Got Protection", and "Chip off the Old Block", none of which he said were good as Chic's past hits.