Facial recognition tech goes beyond just selling stuff

Oct 28, 2014

A potential application of facial recognition technology was recently demonstrated in a Barcelona comedy club, where patrons were basically charged per laugh.

According to reports, tablets installed at the Teatreneu club use facial recognition technology to measure the number of laughs. Each laugh is charged 0.30 euros (38 cents) but capped at 24 euros ($30), or 80 laughs, for the full night. Initial admittance is free.

The scheme, called "Pay Per Laugh" and aided by advertising agency The Cyranos McCann, is reportedly lifting average ticket prices by six euros and being copied in other theaters around Spain.

[Image: Pay Per Laugh]

For retailers, facial recognition technology’s ultimate potential has often been likened to the scene from the movie, "Minority Report," in which Tom Cruise is instantly recognized as he walks into a Gap location and offered purchase suggestions based on the character’s buying history and other personal details.

NEC has launched a facial recognition system in Japan that allows retailers to profile customers to estimate not only gender and age, but whether the shopper has been at the store before and how frequently she or he shops there. The recognition — done anonymously — promised to help stores maximize window displays, layouts, personnel and promotions by time of day. Not unsurprisingly, the technology continually raises privacy concerns.

Yet advancements in the technology continue, largely driven by demand from law enforcement and airport security.

Most retailers are in fact using the technology for security reasons. According to EssentialRetail, Harrods has been testing facial recognition technologies over the last two years to stop shoplifters, with officials admitting to the limitations of reading faces in crowds. Smart Vend Solutions in the U.K. recently created a vending machine using the technology that allows or prevents purchases based upon users’ age, gender or dietary requirements. Uniqlo has developed a system that uses facial recognition to enable shoppers to pay for purchases.

Will reading shopper moods ever be feasible for retail? What’s your latest take on the potential applications and limits of facial recognition technology for retailers?

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14 Comments on "Facial recognition tech goes beyond just selling stuff"

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Steve Montgomery

I would agree that much of the privacy we used to enjoy is gone thanks to the increased use of credit cards and the internet. However, I would still like to think that I have some left, including not having my face recognized so that I can be presented with more stuff to buy.

Frankly I find the concept creepy and would avoid shopping in stores that did this. I expect that many others would feel the same way.

Ken Lonyai

Pay-per-Laugh is a really cool and inventive idea. Not only did it create curiosity to drive audience engagement, but it worked as an amazing PR tool as well. In my mind, the results were predictable. Bravo!

And there lies the issue with these technologies for retail. Retailers are looking at using emerging tech like NUI (natural user interface), beacons and other inventive technologies in the most mundane and obvious ways: To push ads or measure gender, age and traffic patterns.

The retailers that let loose and break free from doing the obvious and leverage new technology in ways that are engaging and fun will reap many more benefits than those that go through the motions or do the expected. So pay attention brands and retailers, there is a very clear message here.

Ryan Mathews

First of all, the more broadly this technology is deployed, the louder the screams will be from privacy advocates and civil libertarians.

Secondly, expressions are cultural artifacts so the potential to misread the facial expressions of minorities, immigrants, visitors, etc., will always remain fairly high.

Third, I guess it all depends on what you mean by feasible. Can it be done? Obviously! Should it be done? Maybe not so much.

People aren’t likely to respond positively to the notion that they are being actively monitored everywhere they go, especially in cultures like ours that have an almost inbred fear of “Big Brotherism.”

Adrian Weidmann

The objective of the art of retailing is to surprise and delight the shopper. Any retailer that has to resort to technology that will strip this away is destined to failure on principal alone. However, the use of this technology to measure if you are achieving surprise and delight during a test phase may be valuable. Retailers are challenged plenty to just remain relevant on the shopping landscape. Reading shoppers’ moods to facilitate an experience or change their behavior is a wasted effort at the retail level. It would be interesting inside a lab environment where you could test a host of variables to determine what, if anything, could change their moods. Security will continue to drive this technology and marketers will try and hang some initiative onto the back end of it.

Mohamed Amer

This is a fascinating topic and it will not go away anytime soon. That said, I do find the dark side of it significant despite the many legitimate and innovative uses to enhance or create new shopping experiences.

Personally, I’m uncomfortable with someone storing and mining my image and “reading” my mind through facial gestures. Others are clearly not as concerned and may even welcome it. Vive la différence!

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Feasible? Only in a general way. There are only about seven facial emotions that can be read consistently across cultures and some cultures show very little facial emotion. So accurately reading facial emotion is a long way off. In terms of facial recognition, that is more feasible and very creepy for the public. Noting how many times a person laughs is a long way from recognizing an individual to monitor behavior or direct promotions. Retailers should proceed with caution.

Cathy Hotka

This is the kind of story that captures the imagination of the media during the holiday season, but back at the office, retailers are busy trying to achieve cross-channel integration of merchandise and processes. Catching the bad guys is good!—but steady execution is better.

John Karolefski
John Karolefski
2 years 11 months ago

Reading shopper moods will never be feasible in grocery. Everybody knows that too many people are not happy shopping for groceries. No need for facial recognition to determine that.

As a business person, I see the value of this technology to deter shoplifting and to determine the demographics of shoppers which can lead to more appropriate assortments. As a consumer, I find this technology in retail kind of creepy.

Ralph Jacobson

I think this technology is as good as the merchant that promotes it. If the merchant utilizes an approach that is fun, exclusive in nature or compelling for shoppers to participate in, then that’s much better than letting the technology get a “creepy” reputation. I think there’s a lot of potential for this.

Herb Sorensen

This is massively significant. And we are just in the process of introducing related technology on the selling floor of bricks-and-mortar retail: HOW TO OBSERVE, MEASURE AND THINK ABOUT SHOPPERS.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Naomi K. Shapiro
2 years 11 months ago

To copy (but not plagiarize) Mohamed Amer’s comments. I agree with everything but the last two sentences.

(Amer Wrote): This is a fascinating topic and it will not go away anytime soon. That said, I do find the dark side of it significant despite the many legitimate and innovative uses to enhance or create new shopping experiences.

Personally, I’m uncomfortable with someone storing and mining my image and “reading” my mind through facial gestures. Others are clearly not as concerned and may even welcome it. Vive la difference!

(Naomi writes) I agree with all but the last two sentences. Let’s not be too blase about this. Others may not be concerned about using this tool, but I find it very scary. “Vive la difference” is not enough to persuade me that this is going to be acceptable procedure for some.

Joan Treistman

Camille appropriately makes the point of distinguishing between facial coding—used to assess emotion and facial recognition—which is a means of identification.

The Barcelona comedy club is using facial coding the same way we in research determine a respondent’s reaction to a video commercial, i.e. over the duration of the commercial. Facial recognition is in the moment, like a thumb print.

Of course there are those who get creeped out by both. But like many technological advances, it’s a matter of how they are used and who is using them and what they are used for. Regardless of the answer to those questions, it seems that for now and in the future all the uses are creating revenue streams.

gordon arnold

Three-dimensional printing and body artwork are putting pressure on this software design to retire along with beepers and buggy whips. Invasion of privacy laws need to improve before this technology is totally shunned for legal reasons. Until then, social media and word of mouth will drive the users away to keep from being the focus of consumer derogatory backlash. This is dangerous ground for the retailer wishing to get a lot of likes.

Naureen Amjad
Naureen Amjad
2 years 11 months ago

Though to be able to keep tabs on shoppers’ personal details can help retailers, it raises serious privacy concerns. To know that you are being watched constantly can be intimidating. It can take the joy out of shopping.


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