As businesses investigate new ways to automate redundant tasks at a macro level, retail is a vertical ripe for disruption. There has been a lot of buzz in the press this year about hamburger-slinging robots and automated baristas creating machine-made mochaccinos, but one new approach to automation has gotten the attention of retailers: the introduction of the Amazon Go concept. Eliminating checkout lines and cashiers using next-gen tech is ushering in the era of frictionless retail that more and more shoppers, especially the smartphone-obsessed Millennials and their younger Gen Z cohort, are expecting.
Amazon Go opened their first store in Seattle in January of this year. There are now three in that city with plans to open others in San Francisco and Chicago. A total of six are in the works. Shoppers use a smartphone app with a unique QR code that gets scanned outside a set of glass doors, similar to the kinds of entryways many corporate employees pass through every day on the way to work. Once inside, shoppers have a range of food choices like grocery essentials as well as grab-and-go breakfast, lunch and dinner options including salads and sandwiches. The store is set up with a vast array of overhead cameras placed strategically around the store as well as numerous weight sensors in the shelves that automatically track items that shoppers select. Amazon Go’s systems automatically debit customer accounts and send a receipt to the app.
Certainly, this is the right direction for creating a 21st century shopping experience. It is light years ahead of having to stand in line, have the cashier scan your items and bag them, interact around how you are going to pay — cash or credit card, have the cashier print out and hand you a receipt with all those ridiculous coupons you never use, share some de facto pleasantry — “have a nice day” and then (finally!) complete your transaction.
But retail establishments could advance this approach even further. Technology has made great strides since the early days when scanning with a mobile device used 2D solutions — which meant that they could be easily spoofed by photos or videos or masks. But today we are in a different world.
Tiny, cost-effective, accurate, mobile 3D cameras, combined with AI-driven software, are transforming the world of real-time biometric face authentication. Today, neural network-based software analyzes 10,000-30,000 depth data points and is not confused by different skin tones or any kind of specific facial features. These solutions function flawlessly in all kinds of lighting situations, from broad daylight to complete darkness, and in any kind of weather. They are not confused by digital artifacts created by the movement of a person being scanned and no one has to carefully align their face to a camera. Plus, all the facial profile data is kept on the device and not posted to a cloud environment where it might be hacked or otherwise compromised.
We are entering the era of 3D face authentication for retail.
Amazon realized that the checkout lane is a “choke point” that becomes an increasing source of tension for consumers used to buying things with a “One Click” approach. Certainly, more and more consumers are expecting the relatively instant gratification that comes when making online purchases. And companies as diverse as Walmart and Microsoft are investigating options for biometric and face authentication approaches to accelerate and simplify purchasing processes for their customers.
Finding ways to make it through a checkout line without having to fish for a loyalty or credit card or produce ID or even waving a mobile phone has been an area of increasing focus for a while. The ideas for transforming payments and making commerce more frictionless represent a vision that has driven a lot of research and experimentation. Certainly, transactional processes that leverage biometrics have been the dream of a seemingly utopian future, but unfortunately most required people to so something time consuming and were not transparent — but today we finally have the technology to deliver on this vision.
A 3D face authentication solution will enable retailers to replace locality IDs, card and cash payments, improving the customer buying experience by using a technology solution that automatically identifies customers by their faces and charges them for their purchases. And to gain more trust from possibly apprehensive consumers, a retailer might feature the fact that 3D facial recognition technology is actually safer and more secure because the consumer data is only kept on the device and not mapped to any tracking data about people who use it. Of course, consumers should always have to opt in to take advantage of this technology. And as in all data sharing situations, they will have the ability to opt out as well, if at some point they feel the solution is not delivering value.
A key aspect of 3D face authentication to keep in mind is that a person’s face is always available as an indicator of identity. People typically go through life with uncovered faces, and their pictures are already represented on various ID documents such as a driver’s license, an employee badge or even on a credit card.
The state of retail is certainly evolving, and at a rapid pace. Consumers will continue to want ease of interaction and as frictionless a buying experience as possible. Smart retailers will be investigating any and all options for improving the purchasing process, and 3D face authentication is certainly going to be a key driver in the transformation of retail in the years ahead.
George Brostoff is CEO of SensibleVision, which makes facial-recognition software. Brostoff has seven US patents and has developed technology used by Dell and other major companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.