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Facial recognition: A new way to know your shoppers?

Facial recognition programs are becoming more accurate and less expensive. Would they be valuable or detrimental to your store?

Do you remember in the movie Minority Report when sensors scanned Tom Cruise’s eyes to personally cater their advertisements?

Japanese retailers may have the opportunity to install software that bears creepy resemblance to the sci-fi flick, according to video news website Diginfo TV.

Tech company NEC recently launched NeoFace facial recognition software that would allow retailers to identify your shopper’s age, gender and how frequently they visit your store.

Retailers can install the software for $880 per month, and because it only needs a computer, Internet connection and video camera to work, it’s pretty user friendly.

Facial recognition software is not that new. Security agencies have long been interested in picking criminals out of a crowd or capturing crimes on record. Airports, banks and immigration centers have a vested interest in this technology, and as it grows more affordable, accurate and easy to use, by default it makes leaps in popularity.

But is it really that valuable?

Tracking shopping habits is a beneficial way to optimize both in-store experiences and sales. If you know more about your customers—such as age, gender and routines—there is a higher likelihood they can buy what they came in for, and then some. With loyalty rewards cards and data recording, retailers have been systematically tracking items bought for decades. “This service is mainly intended for retailers that have several stores,” explains a representative of NEC. “Retailers can find out how many customers visit their stores at each time of day, and what customers’ attributes are.” Retailers could better accommodate certain demographics, such as millennials or baby boomers.

But how do we distinguish between improved sales strategies and invading personal privacy? Is this actually ethical?

In this increased age of digitization, where we not only connect with old friends online, but also form new relationships, it’s tempting to translate new technologies to stores.

But the bottom line is that people don’t develop the long-standing, close connection to stores because they see a specific display catered to their demographic. Facial recognition programs—that are by nature controversial—ultimately will not make shoppers return to your store.

Rather, people crave personal connection. It’s the especially knowledgeable employee in the supplement aisle; the passionate cheese monger who offers you tastes; the cashier who asks if your dog liked the wheat-free treats you bought last week; or the in-store cooking classes that will make people lifelong customers.

Spend the time getting to know your shoppers and you won’t need software to recognize faces.

Would you put facial recognition software in your store? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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on Jun 10, 2013

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