As Walmart feels the pressure of Amazon weighing down on them, they are bringing in extreme measures to keep the customers they already have, which is evidenced by the patent they filed that was recently discovered. The patent, which was filed in 2012 and approved in 2016, is for a technology that would be aimed at the lines leading up to the cash register and are supposed to detect each customer’s emotion.
“It is easier to retain existing customers than acquire new ones through advertising,” the patent reads. “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.”
According to the patent, the technology will read facial expressions and bodily movements to detect varying levels of dissatisfaction from customers. This will then be transmitted to other employees around the store and ping them to come to the cash register in an effort to alleviate the stress of the customers by reducing wait times.
It’s also hinted within the patent that the technology could further be used to track purchase habits in relation to the dissatisfaction to notice of there is a shift. The patent explains that “Significant drops or complete absence of customers spending … may be identified.” Customer’s faces would be stored so that it can recognize the patterns through individuals.
This isn’t the first time that Walmart has attempted to use facial recognition within stores, but the previous attempt involved identifying shoplifters as they entered the store. A program to test out the technology ran for a few months, but the company decided that it wasn’t effective and scrapped the idea. That could very well be the case with this new technology, as tracking customers’ emotions may not hold over well with the customers themselves. As some argued before, using facial recognition could be considered a violation of personal privacy, even if it’s for the good of the person.
As Walmart continues to compete with online retailers, their technological advancements grow more complex. Some locations currently have touch screen machines that process returns while others have displays that showcase the difference between different electronics and their capabilities. This essentially takes the place of a sales associate in the electronics department, although sometimes associates are still needed to explain the machine to customers, thereby defeating the purpose.
Whether this new facial recognition technology will be a success remains to be seen, but as soon as they start rolling out, many people will surely have something to say about them and the controversy itself will likely spike the curiosity of customers.