Face Value

You only need to go back a few years and the idea of facial recognition was widely viewed as inherently spooky, icky, intrusive and scary.

Fast forward to today and not only is facial recognition an extremely important weapon in the border control / security services arsenal, but the likes of HSBC are allowing customers to open a bank account with selfies and Amazon is trialling pay-by-selfie.  Uber now does “spot checks” on its drivers whereby they have to prove they are who they say they are (in other words that the right person is driving the car) – using selfies.

It’s the same bleeding-edge technology used for Security that is now finding a home in Retail, as Mike Lynskey from Microsoft and Jeremy Sneller from Touchbyte told a rapt crowd in a fascinating workshop at the Retail Tomorrow conference in February.

Enabling the frictionless future

Facial recognition has inarguably come of age: for consumers it offers “frictionless” convenience, and for retail – which sees large numbers of its customers physically come into store – the potential for smart data mining and advanced analytics is compelling.

This all plays directly to the personalisation agenda.  The value proposition for retailers is very strong – facial recognition technology instore can help you understand more about your customers:

  • When they visit
  • How often they visit
  • What areas of store they visit (and don’t visit)
  • Where in store they dwell
  • What age and gender they are
  • What areas in store seem to make them happy

And then what can retailers do with this insight?  Raise the transaction frequency and conversion ratio of individual customers by engaging them and improving the customer service and experience instore.  Lift the lifetime value, personalisation and loyalty of an individual and collective customers for the retailer’s brand.  That’s what.

Mike and Jeremy talked of three ‘options’ for deployment:

Analytics, Recognition, Validation

‘Analytics’ covers the instore metrics identified above – footfall, demographics etc. – while preserving customer anonymity.  ‘Recognition’ is the next step along, where the technology is allowed to identify and recognise specific individuals.  On the one hand this is to help the customer, either for VIPS, registered disabled customers who may welcome assistance, and loyal/valued customers.  On the other hand this is to aid the store: recognising banned individuals or price-matchers, for example.

Our last area is ‘Individual Validation’ – some of the application examples here include kiosks, making payments, loyalty points, age restricted goods.  And looking slightly further into the future, facial recognition will enable what many retailers are starting to admit they see as the Holy Grail: fully checkoutless shopping.

A technology whose time has come

I’d say that one of the key themes that came out of Retail Tomorrow vision was that of a “frictionless society” where mobility, the Internet of Things, AI and automation come together to deliver speed, security and convenience.  Facial recognition has proved it deserves a place at the table.

But what do you think facial recognition promises us – exciting future or Orwellian dystopia?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…