Walmart Will Now Be Able To Recognize Your Mood While Shopping

By Sydney Vacca


 Image Illustration by Marist Business Review | Image Courtesy: Apple Inc.

Image Illustration by Marist Business Review | Image Courtesy: Apple Inc.

  • Walmart obtained a patent in 2012 to utilize facial recognition technology to determine customers’ moods.
  • Walmart plans to enhance its customer service and cut down on the number of associates needed to operate its retail locations.

  • By 2030, Citi Research estimates that ⅔ of U.S. retail jobs could be gone.


Despite the convenience and rise of online shopping, in-person store shopping has its benefits, such as the ability to view the product as is, without being surprised by unknown factors oftentimes experienced with online shopping.  Perhaps one of its most comforting aspects is sales associates, who are relentless in their pursuit to offer assistance to frustrated shoppers.  However, with the rise of new technology, this interaction may be no more.

 

 

Apple has upped the innovation game again with the latest feature of the new iPhone X: facial recognition.  While facial recognition technology has been around for years, it has only recently posed the ability to infiltrate personal shopping.  As reported by Bloomberg, Apple tends to break the ice for technological innovations that have not yet been accepted by consumers.  When Apple added fingerprint sensors to its products in 2013, the sales of fingerprint technology increased dramatically.  Aligning with its age-old slogan “think different,” Apple has managed to convince its customers to embrace innovations once they are delivered through the latest Apple products.

 

However, Apple may have taken too big of a leap with its facial recognition privacy settings.  Even if consumers are comfortable opening their private phones via a photo of their face, they might have concerns with the way that some retailers intend to use this technology.  While some software companies, such as Facefirst, emphasize the security benefits of utilizing facial recognition, other companies seek to use facial recognition to learn more about customers.  As fewer customers are entering brick-and-mortar stores, retailers are desperate to optimize the customer service experience.

 

In 2012, Walmart obtained a patent to employ facial recognition technology to identify customers’ facial expressions.  With this biometric information about its customers, Walmart could direct staff to disgruntled customers and observe their shopping patterns. Thus, from the moment a customer would enter a Walmart store, their every move could be viewed by an employee who would be ready to jump in and assist them.  This shows that facial recognition has the potential to significantly impact one’s ability to shop independently.

 

Despite the potential, there have been critics of companies using facial recognition technology.  One of the most outspoken individuals against Walmart, Jasmine Glasheen of Retail Minded, suggested that the corporation should, “consider how the implementation of new technology will impact their relationship with their customers.”  Glasheen’s comment is a reminder of the importance of human interaction in the customer service equation.  While personalization and efficiency are both factors that enhance customer service, many consumers are loyal to specific retailers due to a feeling that, at some point along the shopping process, there is a human that cares about their satisfaction.

 

From Walmart’s position, another benefit of the technology would be that its retail locations would require less staff overall, since associates could address issues on the sales floor almost instantaneously.  Walmart’s efforts to reduce the amount of humans needed to manage its stores mirrors Amazon Go’s “Just Walk Out Technology.”  

 

 

As retailers incorporate more technology into store operations, there will be severe consequences for the economy, as the entire job category of “sales associate” might become extinct.  In 2015, Citi Research predicted that by 2030 approximately “Two-thirds of U.S. retail jobs are at ‘high risk’ of disappearing.”  For the sake of the jobs of these workers, it would be helpful to delay this seemingly inevitable predicament until there are new jobs to take the place of such entry-level positions.

 

 

According to The Wall Street Journal in July 2017, Walmart is still moving forward with its push to utilize facial recognition technology.  Whether or not its mood-predicting feature will be received well, customers will ultimately determine the fate of other retailers’ adoption of similar methods.  Looking solely at Apple’s history of being the catalyst for widespread adoption of new technology, it appears that the inclusion of facial recognition on the iPhone X will ultimately result in the technology’s prevalence.

 

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