As Chain Trials Facial Recognition, Channel Assumptions Flip

Written by Evan Schuman
July 1st, 2013

A major Russian convenience store chain, Ulybka Radugi, is now running a trial of facial recognition to choose digital in-store ads to be displayed and POS coupons to be offered. But as more chains start to seriously investigate the facial recognition potential, some of the fundamental CRM biometric assumptions are being challenged.

As a landmark facial recognition biometric study at Carnegie Mellon University established two years ago, retailers using existing security cameras can grab real-time images of shoppers and identify them within seconds using public databases. (The CMU study at the time limited itself to public Facebook images.)

There are three primary ways this can be used in retail. First option: it can be used to try and positively identify that customer by name, like the CMU study. It can then search for that name in its customer database.

Second option: it ignores a name for the time being, instead merely capturing the facial data points and noting what purchases the person attached to that face makes. Then, when the cameras catch that same face again (say, perhaps four days later), it will remember the prior purchases. It can either use that to send digital ads or coupons for that shopper or can merely note shopping patterns. (Note: 47 percent of people that we noticed buying Lime-flavored Diet Coke returned a few days later to buy Kleenex, red-colored hammers, Liquid Plumber and loaves of French bread. Please don’t ask us to explain it: we’re just closed-circuit cameras.)

The third option is the least interesting and it’s the approach that the Russian chain is trying: Using the images to guess gender and age-range and use that solely to send ads and promotions.

But such activities need not end with the same channel where they began. Once a shopper is identified in-store and is matched with a CRM profile—or they are identified anonymously in-store and a purchase profile of this unknown-person-with-this-specific-face is slowly built—that information can theoretically be married to data from that person’s desktop-shopping E-Commerce efforts or their tablet/smartphone’s M-Commerce efforts.

The question, then, is whether it has to start in-store. What if this hypothetical chain pushes some attractive incentives to get lots of customers and prospects to download its free mobile app? And buried in the terms & conditions is the right for the app to monitor images?

The next selfie or Snapchat that the shopper sends is captured and the facial data points are noted. The app itself may already have a name of the shopper (it probably does), but if not, the phone provides plenty of clues. And geolocation knows where the phone goes and certainly when it walks into one of the chain’s stores.

Here’s where it gets even freakier. Once the mobile app has identified the face of the shopper—and has linked it to whatever mobile shopper that customer has done—it can tell the in-store camera databases what to look for. When that shopper walks in, it can connect the mobile activity with any observed in-store activity.

And if the desktop device has a camera enabled for any purpose, there’s more potential. Invasive and creepy to the extreme, but potential nonetheless.


Comments are closed.


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.