3 Innovative Ways
Retail is Using
Director of Marketing
In our blog post on tech trends in retailing, we touched on one application of facial recognition by California eatery CaliBurger. If you recall, this quick-service restaurant linked facial recognition to its loyalty program, allowing members ordering at kiosks to be shown their favorite meals based on previous purchases — even paying for their purchase without the need for a physical or digital wallet.
Before we take a deeper dive and explore other ways retail is applying this emerging technology, let’s review some basic information about how facial recognition works.
Biometric ID = facial signature
Facial recognition uses biometrics to map facial features from a photo or video, and then compares that information with a database of known faces to find a match. As a blog article from Norton by Symantec explained, “Facial recognition software reads the geometry of your face. Key factors include the distance between your eyes and the distance from forehead to chin. The software identifies facial landmarks — one system identifies 68 of them — that are key to distinguishing your face. The result: your facial signature.”
While this process is certainly fascinating, it also poses some concerns. Until recently, primary users of facial recognition software were the police, casinos and airports, mostly due to cost constraints. Now that biometric authentication is becoming more mainstream — FaceID on the iPhone X is the latest example — facial data protection is being included in discussions about consumer privacy along with other personally identifiable information.
Much more to come on that particular subject in the future, but for the time being, let’s get back on point and focus on positive ways facial recognition is being used in retail today.
- Enhancing customer experience
Anyone who uses the internet is probably familiar with the concept of cookies. A website you visit is able to follow where you go online because its cookie is embedded in your browser. That’s why you’ll often see ads for products you’ve looked at or topics you’ve researched pop up in the days and weeks after visiting a particular site. With facial recognition, your face becomes the cookie. As Kaveh Wadell explains in his blog article, “Facial Recognition Edges toward the Mainstream,” “Now the vision is that, as you walk around town or anywhere else, stores that share data with one another will be able to follow you on foot because your face will be associated with their businesses.”
So how can facial recognition be used to enhance the customer experience? Consider what Delta Airlines is doing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In late November 2018, through a partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Delta rolled out the first biometric terminal in the U.S. Now, customers flying direct to an international destination can use facial recognition to go from curb to gate.
Another example is the artificial intelligence (AI) facial recognition technology Walmart has patented. Intellectsoft reported that the big-box retailer uses cameras “to capture the facial expressions of customers in checkout lines to measure the degree of dissatisfaction with service.” Walmart is then able to improve the in-store experience through displays and real-time promotions, among other tactics.
- Reducing theft and shrinkage
Loss prevention has been and continues to be a major issue in retail, especially with the increase of organized retail crime. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), theft, fraud and losses from other retail “shrink” totaled $50.6 billion in 2018, up from $46.8 billion in 2017. According to NRF Vice President for Loss Prevention Bob Moraca, “As criminals find new ways to steal, loss prevention teams are finding new ways to stop them. Increasingly, this is a battle focused on technology.”
Facial recognition is powerful weapon to help fight this battle. According to FaceFirst, a company that developed a platform using facial recognition and AI, “Biometric surveillance technology is one of the most effective ways to deter retail criminals.” Its research shows 40% of identified shoplifters will return within 30 days, and 20% of those return more than four times in 30 days. There is good news though. FaceFirst also reports that shoplifting is decreased by 20% when facial recognition is used in retail in addition to discovering in-store threats in real time.
- Improving employee tracking
A lesser-known use for facial recognition is tracking employees. As David Rodeck noted, “With facial recognition software, you won’t have to worry about missing access cards because your employees’ faces can be used to open doors.” That also means you can be sure each employee has actually clocked into work, not just someone swiping that employee’s card. Facial recognition adds an extra layer of protection to restricted areas and can also help prevent internal theft.
As retail thought leader Tony D’Onofrio aptly observed, “Technology convergence and applications outside of traditional security are leading to more powerful FaceID-based solutions.” D’Onofrio concludes that it’s through a “combination of AI, machine learning, Internet of Things and cloud computing” that we’ll continue to see more innovative advancements in facial recognition.