In Russia, Checkout Counters Check You

Russian cosmetics chain Ulybka Radugi is testing new checkout counters that use machine vision to track customers’ emotional states–and offer them customized discounts.

Customers at one of Russia’s largest cosmetics chains are about to encounter something different: Checkout counters that read their facial expressions and register their emotions whenever they make a purchase. The 280-location strong Ulybka Radugi chain is partnering with marketing tech firm Synqera for the project. Cameras and emotion recognition software append information on a customer’s mood to an information package that also includes purchase records and loyalty card numbers. Once this data is on record, it helps Ulbyka Radugi create custom campaigns and promotions aimed at individual shoppers.


Synqera’s COO, Filipp Shubin, told Fast Company in a telephone conversation that the project’s goal was to “make the consumer experience more compelling than shopping online.” Showrooming is just as much a problem in Russia as it is in the United States, and the company’s solution is to take facial recognition and use it to offer special promotions that online retailers can’t match. More importantly, they also tie a customer’s emotional state to the type of cosmetics they wear.

While facial and emotion recognition analytics are being tested on a limited basis by American retailers, a mixture of legal, technological, and cultural factors mean foreign chains have been the ones to mainly try them out. Although the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued best practices for retail facial recognition technology last year, Japanese, Russian, and Chinese chains have been at the forefront of emotion-reading retail.

When Ulybka Radugi shoppers are at the point of payment, sensors read their facial expressions and funnel them through a mixture of computer vision library code and in-house software. Shubin said that the software then combines the data insights with real-time analytics; using information from facial expressions, shoppers can be targeted with SMS text messages offering discounts or ads as soon as they leave the store.

Synqera plans to bring this technology to America, of course. The company recently opened a New York office and their English-language press materials focus mainly on their product’s potential appeal to retailers trying to keep customers away from online retailers. Their platform, called Simplate, also offers optional gamification and survey-taking components–the payment stations are designed specifically to help retailers learn as much about their customers as possible.

So will emotion-reading analytics come to your local drugstore, shopping mall, or big box chain in the near future? Highly likely. Although the FTC’s report begins with the laziest of all emerging technology clichés–a comparison of Minority Report to everyday life–the tech behind it is new. While the government is urging retailers to put up cameras high enough so that children’s faces don’t register and to avoid facial recognition tech in medical offices or bathrooms, they also say that adoption by retailers is a foregone conclusion. One possible use, the FTC says, is replacing store loyalty cards with facial recognition cameras that also integrate emotion analytics. Surprisingly, the FTC is also open to the idea of consumers using technology that foils facial recognition.

Ulybka Radugi will begin rolling out the technology in July 2013.


[Happy Egg: rakratchada via Shutterstock | Image: Synqera]