Online shopping and ecommerce sales have been quickly growing against in-store retail for more than a decade, and due to COVID-19, this has accelerated. According to estimates, ecommerce sales comprised about 21.3% of all sales worldwide in 2020, up 15.8% from the previous year.

Ecommerce giants like Amazon have even used tactics like quick shipping and generous return policies to infiltrate categories once thought immune to the shift to online, like clothing and groceries.

For traditional retailers still competing on in-store experiences, some strategies are proving more attractive than others for the modern shopper. Sears was known as the department store to first pioneer shopping from home with its iconic mail catalogues. However, after dominating the space for much of the 20th century, the retailer failed to stay current on its technology, customer experience and even product offerings and began to collapse largely before ecommerce competition preyed on the sector. Others like Macy’s survived the initial shift to digital but failed to keep customers interested in in-store shopping in recent years as ecommerce competition grew. Nordstrom, on the other hand, faced with a similar challenge, has found success by maintaining an online presence while creating exciting, engaging in-store shopping experiences like ugmented reality makeup counters, that are keeping customers coming back to stores.

As more retailers seek to create seamless Online to Offline (O2O) shopping experiences, tech integrations such as self-checkout kiosks and QR code directories are becoming more commonplace. Meanwhile, even more aggressive tech solutions like the fully automated Amazon Go stores are blazing a trail for fully tech-enabled retail experiences of the future.

The Added Challenge of COVID-19

In-store retail is now facing an even greater challenge, to continue attracting customers into stores while also keeping them safe.

For shoppers, this means mandated mask wearing, front of store temperature checks and hand sanitation. Some stores are also adopting special entrance-to-exit shopper routes, to ensure guests minimize contact with others in store. Retail spaces across the country are also subject to state-by-state reduced store capacity regulations.

For store staff, typical workday processes like clocking in, using POS terminals and other shared surfaces, and handling cash have all needed rethinking to minimize contact and virus transfer. Retail staff are also often at a heightened risk of COVID-19 infection due to having to deal with noncompliant customers who choose not to wear masks or not wear them properly over their nose and mouth.

Facial Recognition as a Multi-Use In-Store Solution

Facial recognition adoption has grown rapidly over the past year. The technology has gained attention as an all-in-one solution capable of providing pandemic control, store security, marketing experiences, and valuable customer analytics and data.

This innovative technology offers a variety of use cases to improve the in-store shopping experience outside of its functions for health and security.

VIP & Loyalty Program Solutions

For customers that have opted-in, facial recognition can enable personalized VIP and loyalty program experiences. When VIP or loyalty program customers enter stores, staff can receive alerts, prompting them to greet the customer or direct them to a favorite item or section. Similarly, these customers can be shown special loyalty-only deals or personalized recommendations at store kiosks or digital signs. During checkout, rewards and promotions can be automatically applied without the need for a physical loyalty card or phone number/email entry.

Smart Digital Signage and Kiosks

Digital signs throughout the store can be personalized and shared based on customer gender, age, mood or loyalty program status. Similarly, digital kiosks can provide smart recommendations to customers throughout the store or act as floating self-service checkouts using facial recognition contactless payment.

Curbside or In-Store Order Pick-up

Ordering online for store pickup has become a key purchase channel for retailers ranging from leading chain stores to independent shops and boutiques. Facial recognition can immediately recognize an opted-in customer and their related order for efficient retrieval, and without the need for personal details like email or phone number to be relayed aloud.

Statistics Collection

Facial recognition enabled cameras can provide management with critical store analytics such as traffic, average customer time spent in the store or certain sections, and demographics such as age, gender and mood. Managers can use this data to create more convenient product placements or store flows for customers, to enhance the overall in-store shopping experience.

Facial Recognition Retail Applications for Pandemic Control

Facial recognition also has unique health applications that can create a safer retail environment during a pandemic like COVID-19.

Health Kiosks

Comprehensive health kiosks at store entrances can individually check customers for temperature, masks, and dispense hand sanitizer before granting entry. This ensures all customers within the store are safe and eliminates the need for a dedicated staff member to perform these checks and be put at greater risk for contraction of the virus.

Mask Checks

Facial recognition cameras throughout a store can perform continuous mask monitoring for multiple people simultaneously, sending instant alerts to security for any noncompliant individuals posing a health risk. Cameras equipped with advanced facial recognition systems like FaceMe® can not only detect if an individual removes their mask entirely, but also if they are wearing it incorrectly, not fully covering their nose or mouth.

Employee Management

For employees entering through dedicated access doors, facial recognition enabled health kiosks can check their temperature, mask wearing and dispense hand sanitizer before unlocking the door. When integrated, the system can also contactlessly clock the employee in. If enabled with a printer, it can also print a wristband verifying the employee was checked upon entering. In a real use case example, a FaceMe® customer has the technology integrated into the employee screening system for a large shopping mall. Employees who enter are checked in through the kiosk. The entry process includes mask and temperature checks, health questions, hand sanitizer dispensing and employee identification verification. After passing these checks, employees receive a wristband for the day, indicating to coworkers and shoppers that they were tested upon entering.

Facial Recognition Retail Applications for Security & Operation

Another key use case for facial recognition in retail spaces is to improve security, protect assets and product and reduce operating costs.

Identifying Block-listed Individuals

Cameras equipped with a facial recognition solution can send security personnel discreet alerts to their phones the moment a known shoplifter or other block-listed individual enters the premises. This alert can include the person’s identity, location within the store and any notes such as why they are block-listed to ensure security can approach them appropriately and safely.

Securing Restricted Areas

Many retail stores or shopping malls contain areas restricted to employees, management or only certain qualified employees. Security cameras or smart locks equipped with facial recognition at the doors of each restricted area can control the door and unlock it only for authorized personnel. Integrated systems can also send alerts to security whenever someone tries or succeeds to gain access to an area where they shouldn’t be. This use case can also act as an important safety measure, monitoring how much time an authorized person is spending in a potentially dangerous area (like freezer storage), to send rescue in case they stay too long.

Employee Clock-in/Clock-out

Facial recognition enabled cameras can provide precise and contactless tracking of when employees come in and out of work, avoiding issues such as a lost or forgotten timecard and adding convenience for employees.

Securing Registers and POS Terminals

Facial recognition can be integrated to cash registers and POS terminals to ensure only authorized employees can use them, and only during the right time window. It can also be used instead of key or cards when a cashier needs manager authorization for a certain type of transaction or for refunds.

Age Validation for Alcohol and Tobacco Products

Facial recognition technology, combined with an ID card reader can validate with a high level of precision that age-restricted products are not sold to underage customers, reducing potential liability for store owners.

Installing Facial Recognition for Retail Use

Retail spaces such as stores or shopping malls can often integrate facial recognition technology with their existing cameras and computers. For smaller individual stores and spaces, this can be achieved by installing a webcam attached to a PC with high quality facial recognition software such as FaceMe®, or simply by integrating with a single camera near a door or entrance. For larger spaces or shopping malls, facial recognition can be integrated into the entire camera system and server infrastructure, allowing for functions like continuous mask monitoring to take place throughout the space.

Facial Recognition & the Future of Retail Stores

We may still have a few years until the most exciting facial recognition retail use cases are broadly deployed, but the technology is already becoming increasingly used for applications around pandemic control, security, and statistics collection. Flexible and accurate solutions like FaceMe® are making this a reality ever more accessible for retailers around the world.

Coming out of COVID-19, retailers will continue to need new and exciting ways to attract customers back into stores while reducing their operating costs. Facial recognition is well poised to be a key solution in helping the sector overcome these challenges.

For a full overview of facial recognition, how it works and how it can be deployed, read Edge-based Facial Recognition - The Ultimate Guide.

For how is facial recognition used in 2021, read Facial Recognition – How is It Used in 2021?