News Feature | July 24, 2017

Walmart Files Facial Recognition System Patent For Use In Checkout Lines

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Walmart

Biometric technology would enable the retailer to detect dissatisfied shoppers via facial expressions.

Walmart has filed a patent for  a facial recognition system for use in store checkout lines that would allow the retailer to use video cameras to detect dissatisfied shoppers, according to Business Insider. The patent filing states that the system would use biometric data to analyze customers’ facial expressions and movements to gauge varying levels of dissatisfaction at a POS queue. The patent filing comes two years after Walmart reportedly (and controversially) tested facial recognition technology to some extent in order catch shoplifters, but abandoned the project as a failure.

"It is easier to retain existing customers than acquire new ones through advertising," Walmart explained in the patent, filed in 2012. "Often, if customer service is inadequate, this fact will not appear in data available to management until many customers have been lost. With so much competition, a customer will often simply go elsewhere rather than take the time to make a complaints."

Biometric data is not new to retail. It is being used in a variety of ways already, including fingerprint scanners and even facial recognition for credit card validation. And biometrics has also proven useful in various loss prevention efforts, including reducing employee theft at the POS and tracking employee access to the cash drawer. And in December 2016, eBay opened the world’s first pop-up store that employed biometric technology to help shoppers reduce the stress of selecting Christmas gifts using facial coding technology to pick the perfect item.

Walmart’s new patent, however, takes biometric data in a new direction by attempting to pacify unhappy shoppers before they leave the store. According to the patent application, the biometric data is analyzed and can generate customer service actions such as alerting a representative or sending in additional employees when a customer appears dissatisfied.

The patent states, “The biometric data of a customer may be correlated to transaction data of the customer in order to detect changes of the purchase habits of the customer due to dissatisfaction. Changes in purchase habits, such as a loss of a customer, may be used in combination with the biometric data to establish thresholds of biometric data used to generate customer service actions.”