In the upcoming Large Display Report we’re running a story on how retailers are turning to Digital Signage to boost sales. The field has boomed to include bigger and better flat panels, 2D and 3D displays and enough satellite distribution and back office technology to run a full-blown National TV network.
Senior Analyst and Editor
In fact, Wal-Mart is doing just that with the fifth largest TV network in the US, right behind ABC, CBS, Fox and "the peacock." Wal-Mart TV reaches a potential viewership of 140M per week and distributes six separate content channels via satellite to 3,000 US stores. Mike Hiatt, the director of in-store media networks for Wal-Mart, said the company leverages its scale, but for Wal-Mart, the challenge of creating "truly engaging content" remains. (Nothing new here, some think TV’s been challenged with this since the time of I Love Lucy.)
To help with content, retailers are beginning to integrate new face recognition technology. This is an area traditionally in the realm of security firms for serious, high-level applications, linked to biometrics (fingerprint ID, Iris scanning.) However, to a retailer facing an economic down turn, nothing is more serious than boosting sales.
At the core of a new Japanese service is a face recognition technology known as the Face Sensing Engine, developed by Oki Electric Industry Co. (Tokyo, Japan; www.oki.com). As shoppers approach a large flat panel display, face recognition technology can be used to profile shoppers, tailoring the message to suit the viewer.
But the technology goes way beyond targeting gender specific ads, say lingerie vs. tire chains, generating ads based on sex, age, and even ethnicity.
One interesting way to see face recognition technology in action is on a web site called My Heritage (www.myheritage.com). This site takes a self-portrait image and runs it against a database of celebrities. Just upload your full-face image, register and answer a few questions, and bingo you look like — OMG, "ELTON JOHN!" But wait, there’s more… Score! George Clooney! Oh, no! One more, Zinger! Donald Rumsfeld. The only way this could get worse is if Dick Ch… Never mind, no more matches please.
In another (non retail) iteration, the Japanese have even taken the technology mobile by incorporating the cell phone camera, mobile e-mail and the popular Japan "Kao-cheki!" web service that runs on cell phone connectivity. This fun application allows one to take a self portrait with the camera phone and upload the image to the web site. The website then runs the face past thousands of Japanese celebrities–looking for the prefect match.
Look for more "smart displays" to enter into our OOH (out of home) viewing experience as savvy retailers begin to apply advanced technologies like face recognition to capture our interest and shopping dollars. The day may come when not just profiling, but true shopper recognition could dominate, with my history of past items purchased and brand preferences on file, ready to serve up the most likely items of interest tailored specifically to Steve. That is, unless the system thinks I’m really Donald Rumsfeld.