Can facial-recognition assist in gift giving?

Photo: eBay
Dec 05, 2016
Tom Ryan

EBay opened a two-day pop-up in London last week with the claim that it was the first store to use facial recognition to help shoppers decide on holiday gifts.

Shoppers in private booths were told to think of someone they wanted to buy a gift for as they were then shown a series of 12 product images for about 10 seconds each in two cycles. Cameras then measured facial expressions and how long individuals looked at each gift to determine which ones they had the strongest feelings for. The process took around five minutes. Shoppers later received via email a list of products they “emotionally resonated” with the most.

The pop-up followed an eBay study that detailed how stress affects holiday giving. Among the findings:

  • Heartrates increase 33 percent in participants while Christmas shopping — on par with running a marathon.
  • Eighty-eight percent experience tachycardia, when heartbeats rise over 100 beats per minute — similar to taking a kickboxing class.
  • Sixty percent hit a “wall of disenchantment” in only 32 minutes of holiday shopping, when engagement and interest levels drop and never recover.

The study touted the benefits of High Intensity Interval Shopping (H.I.I.S.), or shorter bursts of shopping that leave shoppers less stressed and able to focus on more meaningful purchases.

“Bite size browsing, such as taking 10 minutes to shop via mobile on commute or purchasing single items during a lunch break, can decrease stress and promote more mindful shopping,” said the U.K.’s retail director at eBay, Rhian Bartlett, in a statement.

While the overall project was designed to show the benefits of periodic online browsing, gaining more attention was the use of biometrics to support stress-free shopping at the pop-up. Beyond facial motions, the cameras measured “micro-expressions” to explore how viewers subconsciously reacted to product.

“’We’re constantly looking to innovate and push the boundaries,” said Julia Hutton-Potts, director of communications at eBay Marketplaces, U.K., of the technology used in the pop-up. “I think it’s really exciting. This could well be the way that everyone is shopping in the future.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your reaction to eBay’s use of facial recognition technology to help consumers decide on what gifts to give? Do you see a promising future in retail for the practice of gauging the subconscious interest of shoppers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Having worked with a number of emotion detecting technologies, I know this is a portent of things to come. "
"Algorithms rule! Love, creativity and surprise are passé. Santa replaced by drones."
"This is another “someone let marketing in the room again” play."

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12 Comments on "Can facial-recognition assist in gift giving?"

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Max Goldberg

Interesting gimmick, but I don’t see consumers being willing to spend five minutes contemplating gifts only to receive analysis via email. The end shopping result might be better, but this is not saving time or creating convenience.

Ian Percy

Algorithms rule! Love, creativity and surprise are passé. Santa replaced by drones.

Sad, don’t you think? What we’re doing to technologically mechanize what is supposedly the most personal, giving, considerate, unifying and loving time of the year?

“Risk” is part of the gift-giving experience. Would s/he love this or that? It’s testing your connection and intimacy with another human you genuinely care about. Nothing feels better than if they absolutely LOVE a gift you personally choose for them. That’s what makes your heart beat faster.

Ken Lonyai

Ian — great perspective! The reality, though, is that as a country the U.S. keeps getting lazier. So if these types of technologies are made available in a way that allows people to take the easy way out of gift selection/giving, they will. Think of how many husbands that don’t know what to buy for their wives will welcome input like this.

The culture is to blame, not the technology.

Charles Dimov

Sounds very cool. Specifically for those of us who are often undecided shoppers. Rather than go through the mental anguish, just go with your physiological reaction. Nice idea.

However, I have to agree with Max. This does seem cool … yet gimmicky. Will it be around next year or five years from now? Although I like the idea, it seems unlikely.

Dr. Stephen Needel

My reaction is that it probably is a load of crap, along with the “research” that was conducted with it. No mention of whether the subconscious interest expressed by eye gaze and facial expression was any different from showing the subject pictures of the products and asking them to rate them for interest. Can we work any harder to take the joy out of gift-giving?

Ken Lonyai

Having worked with a number of emotion detecting technologies, I know this is a portent of things to come. The same can be done with a desktop computer or mobile device and some secret sauce. So if approached in a positive, openly-disclosed manner (kudos to eBay on that!) other brands can definitely use emotional measurement/tracking as another tool to aid personalization and targeting. Expect it in future versions of Google Home, Alexa and other voice-interfaced devices.

Lee Kent

Brain research and its relation to shopping is very intriguing however maybe not ready for prime time just yet. Showing me a bunch of random items that I didn’t even pick out really holds little meaning other than to indicate my feelings about the items chosen. Does this mean that I want to buy them?

I may like half of what I see but can only buy one. I’m just not sure I need this kind of gimmick in order to make my decision. Just sayin’.

But that’s just my 2 cents.

Joan Treistman

EBay is saying that facial expressions uncovered what resonated most with the buyer. However, the idea is to buy a gift that resonates with the recipient. So the validity of facial expression metrics in this case is moot.

Tom Redd

Pure spin play. EBay is attempting to reposition their image. My face is always the same — ugly — and eBay ain’t gonna read through that. Sure, if retailers have capital to waste to try to get to the subconscious — mine is in constant motion and changes with each keystroke. This is another “someone let marketing in the room again” play. It gets PR and comments and chops off a bit of the long, dragging brand tail of eBay. Old school in a new world of retail.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Facial detection (versus recognition) of gender, age range, etc. along with sentiment analysis can be delivered by technology while protecting the privacy of individual shoppers. Delivering analytics that reflect shopper interest in a “presence-notice-dwell” framework also provides insights into under-performing merchandising and promotions in the physical retail store.

Meaghan Brophy

Speaking of facial recognition technology: see this.

Personally I find it terrifying. But it seems as though it may be here to stay. Though I don’t see a future in the technology for gift-giving purposes, I do see a future in the technology for automated checkout like Amazon is testing, and for larger retailers to gauge shoppers emotions towards different items and aspects of their stores to improve the customer experience.

Kai Clarke

Wow, using personal feedback on basic pictures doesn’t seem to be very accurate. I would be curious to see customer shopping feedback after the holidays to determine how effective this process really was.

"Having worked with a number of emotion detecting technologies, I know this is a portent of things to come. "
"Algorithms rule! Love, creativity and surprise are passé. Santa replaced by drones."
"This is another “someone let marketing in the room again” play."

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