How Retailers can leverage Facial Recognition

You may remember the movie “Minority Report” in which the irises of pedestrians are scanned in public spaces. In 2019, this technology is no longer a distant reality, and that includes the retail sector.
How Retailers can leverage Facial Recognition



Cameras and software are increasingly being used in shops, shopping malls, supermarkets to analyze who is looking at what, for how long, and how they feel from performing those actions. Advanced AI software is able to determine the viewer’s age and gender, but also his or her emotions, and if an image is distasteful or agreeable. Those frameworks are becoming even more precise, and retailers around the globe are further developing and implementing innovative solutions based on such.


Way More Insights For Retailers

Software such as NEC’s Neoface or Eyesee lets retailers determine your gender, race, and approximate age, where and how long you looked at different displays, and if you were smiling or glowering at the time.


In certain instances, they will recognize your exact identity. Such information can potentially be cross-referenced with other data sets about you, for example: how often you shopped at that specific store location, when you last visited, what you purchased at that time… and even items you stole in real-time.


Those technologies have the potential to provide brick-and-mortar retail stores with “the same data accuracy and ad targeting as any modern website,” representatives of the DX3 technology, digital marketing, and retail conference told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 2016.


How Retailers can leverage Facial Recognition

A pertinent application example would be California-based eatery CaliBurger which has been linking facial recognition to its loyalty program (with their customers’ consent). The software, installed in ordering kiosks, recognizes registered members as they draw near, activates their loyalty accounts, and, based on previous purchases, can display their favorite meals.



The results of this analysis can be a collection of various emotional responses retailers and brands could access to help them make decisions about crucial elements that may influence the buying decision, such as:


  • Product pricing, packaging, and branding: if emotional responses are negative, it could be time to drop prices. If shoppers examine packages and seem confused, it might be time for a packaging do-over.
  • Inventory availability and replenishment: if customers appear pleased about specific flavors, perhaps stock more of these, and stock fewer flavors they decry.
  • Shelf placement, store, and aisle layouts: if emotional responses suggest irritation, then reconfigure product displays or move merchandise to a different aisle.


Interestingly, recent Forbes research shows that 70% of millennials in the United States and 62% in the United Kingdom claim they would appreciate a brand or retailer using artificial intelligence to show more interesting products.


Privacy and Ethical Concerns

Yet, not everyone is enthusiastic about such developments. “This is way more intrusive than video… this is really, really intimate information that may seem harmless on the surface. But who knows in particular contexts what it could be used for,” told Randy Lippert, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Windsor to the CBC.


Some experts believe facial and emotional recognition technologies could include manipulative marketing or even discrimination by age, gender, or race. Shoppers wouldn’t necessarily know how the information is stored or shared among third parties. Canada’s privacy commissioner indicates that “facial image data is particularly sensitive because it is unique and can be linked to many other individual-level data.”


Based on a 2018 survey by personalization provider RichRelevance, 58% of UK residents think emotion recognition technologies are “creepy”. Henrik Nambord, VP Sales, EMEA at the firm believes it could be partly due to a lack of understanding about artificial intelligence. “… it is clear that UK consumers still do not fully understand AI. As such, not only do retailers need to be transparent about how they use AI, but also emphasize its benefits – primarily its ability to make the customer shopping experience more memorable than ever before” Nambord told PCR.


That being said, it’s paramount that retailers and their technology partners ensure privacy compliance and enforce strict ethical guidelines when developing and implementing such systems.


For most retail stores, their survival is based on the ability to find data and then make meaning out of it; and facial and emotional recognition technologies hold a lot of promise to attain these goals.