Retailers dipping their toes in facial recognition for a better customer experience

Apple, iPhone X, facial recognition, security, Juniper market research
Customer experience (CX) expert Brennan Wilkie says that facial recognition will be a key technology moving forward in the personalization of shopping.

Walmart is the latest retailer testing facial recognition technology in an effort to create a better customer experience. Customer experience (CX) expert Brennan Wilkie says that facial recognition will be a key technology moving forward in the personalization of shopping. 

"Installing facial recognition monitors in stores has the potential to grant retailers insight into the in-store customer experience," Wilkie, the senior vice president of customer experience strategy at InMoment, told FierceRetail. "They can use it to determine, for example, whether customers are frustrated during self check-out and notify staff to respond with triage, pre-empting complaints and ultimately attrition."

Retailers can then pair the facial expression data with customer demographics, loyalty metrics and other product purchase information, a brand can gain a deep understanding of the consumer. 

"This intelligence could fuel action across the organization, from targeting demographics differently, to increasing access to self check-out, to deploying human talent at the specific points along the customer journey where they increase value," he added.

However, Wilkie warns that Walmart and other retailers will need to be cautious as they test and implement these new tools in order to avoid crossing the line of customer privacy with this new tool. To address this, brands must be transparent about where, when and why they’re using this new technology, and of course, offer value in return for this privacy invasion.

There are several other challenges associated with using facial recognition. For example introducing new data when companies are already swimming in Big Data and struggling to derive value from it.

"Having a strong strategy for how to manage, access, analyze and action the information will is paramount," Wilkie said. "Practically, there may be pushback from customers who are uncomfortable with the idea of their in-store actions being not only recorded by facial recognition monitors (often already done for security purposes), but observed and analyzed for business strategy reasons. If retailers can communicate the overall benefits of the technology as they roll it out, any negative feedback should be outweighed by the positive. This strategy has worked well with newly introduced in-store technology, such as self-checkout lines and chip readers, in the past."

Another concern related to this infant technology is that there is the potential for the data to be misread. Therefore, the analytics software needs to be very sophisticated to be able to get results off of reading a customer's expression. 

The final challenge will be knowing when a retailer should implement new changes based on localized behaviors. 

"Regionally, customer demographic preferences can differ. This should be considered as CX changes are implemented at scale as a result of learned insights from the technology," he said. 

So which retailers should be leading the way with facial recognition?

Wilkie recommends retailers with Millennials as their main demographic since study findings show that Millennials are most comfortable with the idea of sharing personal data with companies as a means to using their products or services. Additionally, retailers who are testing out the incorporation of robot assistance for processes such as self-checkout and self-price check are great candidates for using facial recognition. 

RELATED: Are consumers ready for Apple's facial recognition?

"By better understanding a customer’s reactions at every point in their customer journey, retailers can assess the ideal balance of human and tech at each customer touchpoint. They may find that their demographic of customers prefers the traditional experience, unlike other retailers with more connected consumers as customers," Wilkie said. 

Using facial recognition technology for CX insights is still in its early stages. Advancements in software will add a new layer of understanding of the CX for retailers. 

"Written feedback, voice feedback and body language will be the holy trinity to delivering a robust customer experience once facial recognition technology is mastered," he added.