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Facial recognition: A creep factor too far in retail?

13th Jul 2015
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For marketers, it’s important to push the boundaries. And there’s arguably no better place than retail in which to do so, right now.

Despite global retail spending topping $22 trillion in 2014, footfall numbers for local shopping centres were still in decline, as of March this year.

In the UK, for instance, local town centres saw a 1.2% drop in visitor numbers in January 2015 compared with a year ago, while December 2014 saw a 0.7% fall.

The upshot is that many retailers are applying all kinds of innovative approaches to their marketing in an attempt to improve flagging in-store customer numbers, and technology is allowing them to push this level of innovation to its fullest.

From click-and-collect to beacons and augmented reality, an array of new tech has been trialled in bricks and mortar stores in recent months and years by retailers of all sizes; all with the aim of creating a more personalised shopping experience akin to that online, and in doing so, retaining loyalty and increasing customer spend.

The question is, at what point does the new level of innovation become too personal for the average Joe? According to a survey of British shoppers by RichRelevance, called “Creepy of Cool”, most people are positive about personalisation and even location-based marketing, but stop short of shops knowing too much about them upon entering a store.

For instance, almost three quarters (72%) of shoppers find personalisation of product recommendations based on purchasing habits a helpful capability when shopping. 63% of consumers also welcome location-based personalisation in store, with a mobile personalised map showing item locations and efficient store paths to help them navigate stores more conveniently deemed the most intelligent innovation.

However, 70% of shoppers would find facial recognition technology that identifies age and gender in order to display product recommendations “creepy”, while 76% felt the same about being greeted by their names when walking into a store because their smartphone had signalled their entrance.

“While it’s always been a well-known fact that UK consumers are keen protectors of their privacy and personal space, we now have a clearer view into where they are increasingly embracing – and even expecting – tailored shopping services in the fast-changing world of retail,” said Diane Kegley, CMO of RichRelevance.

“Personalisation in the form of facial recognition or personal greeting at store entrance may not be welcome, but we’re seeing a trend of younger consumers who are open to a connected shopping experience—receiving recommendations delivered within their personal space like dressing rooms and smartphones, and allowing in-store tracking if it means getting a better deal.”

Other marketing ideas that were currently in the midst of being developed or had been trialled were also deemed too creepy be consumers, including:

·         Products in store that don’t have price tags; with digital screens displaying prices that are tailored to the customer instead.
·         Digital screens in dressing rooms providing recommended products based on current items and past purchases.  
·         A salesperson unlocks the dressing room door before a customer arrives based on their detected location within the store. 

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