Shopping might be about to get pretty creepy. Walmart, it seems, is branching out into the business of facial recognition technology. Apparently, the grocery store giant is seeking ways to identify whether a customer is unhappy or dissatisfied, and then sending staff in to deal with them before they are able to register a complaint.
According to reports, Walmart has filed a patent that seeks to develop facial recognition technology by scanning customers as they wait in line for the cashier. The footage will then be fed into a computer, which will assess how each person is feeling. If the system judges a customer to be sad or unhappy, then the right staff members will be alerted, and the problem dealt with.
The company insists that this technology is entirely focused on improving their customer service and interactions with staff, as the patent argues that it is much easier to retain current customers than it is to attract new ones. With this logic, they want all people within their stores to be as happy and satisfied as possible, and presumably, this new technology is an attempt to feed into that.
“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.”
The patent also hints at other ways in which the technology could be used to inform Walmart as to the behavior of its customers. They say that they want to use the new technology to analyze what people are purchasing, linking it to customers facial expressions. Walmart says it could help them link changes in purchasing habits due to disaffection.
This is not actually the first time that Walmart has attempted to use facial recognition software in their stores. Back in 2015, they trialed a project where they used it to try and identify shoplifters who were pilfering from their stores. They eventually shut up shop on this program, however, as it was not particularly effective.
This all sounds majorly creepy, and there is no certainty that any of it will go ahead. Either way, it shows the uncomfortable balance that will soon have to be struck between privacy and consumerism when this sort of tech becomes way more widespread.