How does a retailer really expect to know a customer these days, especially if that that customer is shopping inside a physical store? Increasingly, the answer seems to be through cameras.
The latest development comes from the drive-thru lanes of the fast-food industry, according to the Financial Times. It reported that “fast-food chains are looking to deploy cameras that recognize license plates in order to identify customers, personalize digital menus and speed up sales.” The general idea, of course, it to further personalize the consumer experience and also save customers the trouble of pulling out credit cards or phones to make purchases.
Starbucks, whose use of mobile commerce technology is the source of envy and imitation in the quick-service restaurant (QSR) and even wider retail world, is also involved in this trend. The report stated that the coffee chain has “began trialing such a system in Korea last year, with customers who preregistered their cars, but restaurants in the U.S. are now looking to follow suit.”
Using cameras and software to recognize license plates is nothing new, of course. Police have used such a process for some 40 years, according to various accounts. But recent changes have sparked even more interest and innovation from commerce operators. As the newspaper put it, “as the cost of the software, and of high-quality internet-connected cameras, has come down, the uses of [license plate recognition] have grown.”
Fast food is not the only sector of retail where cameras could boost the customer experience — or even replace a good number of cashiers. The grocery industry, already the site of many retail innovation efforts, is increasingly experimenting with cameras, with much of the push coming from companies based in the U.K.
For instance, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, British grocer Tesco plans to open a “pick and go” or “frictionless shopping” store to the public next year, following testing the store technologies with employees. “Eventually it wants to use the technology, developed by Israeli startup Trigo Vision, in more of its smaller grocery stores,” the report said.
The move, of course, is inspired by what Amazon is doing in its Amazon Go grocery stores.
Sainsbury’s also is taking part in the cashierless push. It has opened a checkout-free store in Holborn Circus, London, where shoppers use a smartphone app when they shop at the store, CNBC reported.
When consumers shop at the store, they can scan their selections, make payments through an app and scan a quick-response (QR) code to confirm their payments. The tills and checkout area of the store have been removed, and a help desk was created to assist consumers who want to make cash or card payments.
“This is an experiment rather than a new format for us — it hasn’t been done in the U.K. before, and we’re really excited to understand how our customers respond to the app experience,” Sainsbury’s Group Chief Digital Officer Clodagh Moriarty said, according to the report. “We’ll be with our customers and colleagues all the way over the coming months, iterating continuously based on their feedback before we decide if, how and where we make this experience more widely available.”
As for the camera proposition with fast food, the FT said that “customers who had signed up to loyalty programs or a restaurant’s app could add their license plate to their existing profile; cameras positioned in drive-through lanes would then take photos of car plates, and the analysis software would determine whether it belonged to a known customer.”
Keep remembering to smile — there’s a good chance that more cameras will eventually make their way to some of your favorite retail locations.