The Franchise Centre

The changing face of retailing – facial recognition technologies taking off

By Centre Contributor

The changing face of retailing – facial recognition technologies taking off(Picture credit: AFP)

Customer service has always been at the heart of retailing but technological advances continue to fundamentally change the way that retailers and customers interact.

Undoubtedly, the rise of the internet and online shopping has been the big game changer in this regard, providing an alternative to face-to-face contact in retail sales.

But even in the bricks-and-mortar retail store environment, new technologies are continually transforming the traditional customer-retailer interaction.

We are always keeping an eye out for the latest retail innovations from around the world and have recently looked at the trends of staff-less and increasingly mobile store formats.

Now we have discovered some major advances being made in the world of customer facial recognition technology set to usher in more significant change.

Yum China, which broke off from its US parent Yum Brands last year and teamed up with an affiliate of Alibaba, has this month launched what it claims is the world’s first ‘smile to pay’ system at a KFC store in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

According to news reports, this service allows customers to process their payment simply by smiling after placing their order at one of the fast food restaurant's self-serve screens.

A 3D camera then scans the customer's face to verify their identity. The ordering machine compares the customer’s face with the verified picture on their Alipay account.

The technology is available to customers registered to the Alipay app – the mobile and online payment platform established by Alibaba.

Yum China claims this is the first commercial application of customer facial recognition technology worldwide.

Closer to home, a Sydney start-up is reportedly preparing to pitch to the food industry a new facial recognition software system that helps cafe workers remember customers’ names.

According to a SmartCompany report, the technology was founded by cafe owners who found it impossible to remember the sheer volume of customer’s names during peak periods.

Their NoahFace product doesn’t process payments but uses a front-facing camera attached to an iPad at the cafe’s counter to scan a customer’s face. Their features are cataloged in a database, which then recognises customers on repeat visits.

The software signs customers up for a loyalty program as soon as they are put in the system, doing away with the need for physical loyalty cards, and aims to provide an efficient method for developing customer relationships and loyalty.

These innovations point to facial recognition advances rapidly emerging as a new front in the ever-changing, technology-driven retail landscape.

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