It is every bit as creepy as it sounds.
Walmart has long been on the cutting edge of logistics and supply-chain management, but the megastore chain is now making headlines in its quest to get data from an entirely new source: the faces of its customers. The largest retailer in the world has applied for a patent for technology that monitors and analyzes patrons’ expressions while they wait in the cashier lines.
Walmart using facial recognition technology to determine my mood is about where I may walk the Appalachian Trail off the grid ...— Mike Comer (@Mike Comer)1500473453.0
The store claims in the patent application that the technology would be implemented for the sake of better customer service, but it’s not hard to foresee this Big Brother-type technology utilized in other manners, including their time spent walking the aisles. Walmart’s stated goal in its patent filing is to improve the experiences of existing customers rather than acquiring new customers using more expensive marketing methods.
“It is easier to retain existing customers than acquire new ones through advertising. 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 complaint.”
Once an unhappy customer is identified via the technology, store management would be notified automatically so they could address the issue personally.
Not only would Walmart want to keep this filing quiet because of the potential privacy issues with the technology, but also because it suggests a radical and perhaps questionable departure from personal interaction that is so closely tied to traditional customer service efforts. Further, programs such as this may inch closer to a business less dependent on human labor. Walmart is the largest private employer in 19 states, so any reductions in the company’s dependency on people would likely lead to economic and political ramifications in many markets.
For consumers, the decision to stay with Walmart may be as simple as considering the human aspects of customer service against in-store surveillance dependent on cameras and algorithms.
We’ll see where this goes, but it could get very interesting if customers realize that mugging and emoting in the checkout line will result in improved customer service.