Not surprisingly, artificial intelligence in all forms was on full display this year at the NRF Big Show. One AI application that caught my attention was facial recognition technology. Last year, 23% of business technology decision-makers said their firm is using or likely to use facial recognition technology, just 3.5% less than machine learning platforms. Consumers will get more comfortable with facial recognition in 2018: The Samsung Galaxy Note and iPhone X now have it built-in. Further, whether you realize it or not, you’ve been tracked through public venues such as airports, casinos, and malls with the technology for security and operational efficiency purposes. So what’s new? The real possibility facial recognition can be tied to your unique digital profile to create more seamless and personalized shopping experiences in the store.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have struggled to identify customers when they come into the store, which inhibits meaningful engagement during the shopping visit. Most retailers don’t identify a customer until checkout, where some loyalty or payment trigger identifies them. By that time, it is too late to engage with the shopper – or they walked out and they missed the opportunity all together. Mobica, a UK-based development firm, demoed facial recognition technology within Intel’s booth at NRF that flipped this script. Mobica applied facial recognition technology to identify customers when they returned to a store – an experience that requires the shopper to opt in, they were quick to point out. Privacy concerns will still abound, but is it really that much different than your typical online shopping experience where the retailer makes product recommendations based on past purchase history?  Also, facial recognition is an authentication tool that can be utilized to make the payment and in-store checkout process more seamless and secure.

Sign me up. Here’s how it should work.
I walk into my favorite camping retailer to pick up a few items for an upcoming camping trip. I leave my wallet and phone in the car. An associate greets me instantly by name, informs me that I have $100 worth of rewards, and mentions that I have a 10% discount on anything in the store today because I’m a loyal customer. The associate recommends I buy a specific fuel for my specialized camping stove I bought a year ago, which he already knows I own. I head to the register, where the clerk bags the items, applies the 10% discount without my prompting, and asks if I want to use my rewards to pay. I agree and tell her I want to pay the balance with my Chase Visa on file. She pushes a button, tells me my receipt is now on file, hands me my bag and I walk out the store.

Creepy? Maybe today, but probably not tomorrow. Five years ago, we thought targeted emails and ads that had our browsing history were creepy (today, many of us just ignore them). Further, we continue to see consumers giving up privacy for more convenience as they become comfortable with new technology.


[1] Source: Forrester Data Global Business Technographics® Data And Analytics Survey, 2017.