Using Facial Recognition for In-Store Personalization

Earlier this month, we created a little demo of using a new service announced by Amazon Web Services called AWS Rekognition. One of the most bothersome problems with in-store clienteling is how to allow the customer to identify themselves with as little friction as possible.

Some retailers try to use mobile apps or loyalty cards, but those are still cumbersome and “invasive”. I hold a particularly high level of disdain for mobile apps. In most cases, they are poorly conceived and mostly hijacked by the Marketing Department who insist on cramming every mode of advertising into a tiny screen. There was a “gold rush” when everyone thought that a mobile app was their key to cracking the Millennial wallet and little boutique firms cranked out uninspired crap–but hopefully that trend seems to be waning now as the return just isn’t what people anticipated.  There are very very few retailers who have managed to create true sustainable engagement via a mobile app.  Its hard to do.

Listen to me Retailers:  No one wants your crappy geo-locating push-spam mobile app!

Now, with that rant out of the way, let me tell you a little about our demo.   AWS Rekognition analyzes photos and extracts metadata regarding the image.  One capability is matching faces and providing a confidence rating.  We can use this to register a face and the later match a new picture of that face with the existing digital map of landmarks in the registered face database.  In the use case presented, we use that capability to identify a customer to customize an in-store experience.  For example, we could change in-store digital signage to promote items we know that customer was interested in, or as in this case, simply play a song over the in-store audio system.

Important to note that AWS does not store the image but rather a digital map of the landmarks on the face.  Sure there are the Tin Foil Hat crowds out there who will insist that Amazon is just amassing a huge library of our photos for nefarious purposes.  Meh…  From an ethical standpoint, if you decide to implement something like this, I sure hope you’d do it in an Opt-In manner.  For god sake, don’t hook it up to hidden cameras.  That’s just asking for a PR hassle plus its kind of a dick move anyway.

Rather, the intent of using the image to identify a person should be more of a convenient alternative.  I’d much rather have this as an option at the grocery story rather than remembering which of 5 past phone numbers I used for their loyalty club.

Anyhow, enjoy.




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Scott has been in the IT industry for 25 years, starting at the very entry-level as a PC repair tech while working his way through college. Over the years, he's had the opportunity to work across a variety of IT roles and industry verticals. For the past seven years, Scott has focused on Omni-Channel technologies and Innovation practices in the Retail industry.

If Scott ever made it onto Jeopardy, his dream categories would be "80's Metal Bands", "Craft Beers of the Northwest", "Kevin Smith Movies", "Jason Isbell Lyrics" and "American BBQ Styles".