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Beer lines and retail theft spur biometrics, computer vision launches

Beer lines and retail theft spur biometrics, computer vision launches
 

Biometrics are appearing in more retail settings as businesses attempt to cut staff and fraud costs, but so are adjacent AI technologies that do not identify the individual, but rather track or analyze their actions. Wicket’s expansion in sports venues, in particular, is gaining traction.

Browns’ Express Beer facial authentication program has a growing fanbase

Fans of the Cleveland Browns are using biometrics to speed up their concessions purchases through the Express Beer program, launched in the team’s stadium this season. The program is a collaboration between the team, Wicket, and concessionaire Aramark, allowing fans to purchase concessions at six locations within the stadium using facial recognition for a quicker and more streamlined shopping experience.

Speaking with the Sports Business Journal, Aramark’s general manager, Jessie Jacobson, stated that during the Browns’ first three home games in the 2023 season, there was a 78 percent increase in transactions. Joe Moeller, the Browns’ senior director of business analytics, remarked that the team has logged more than 1,500 enrollments in the program so far.

“We continue to see positive growth week after week,” Jacobson said. “We fully expect that to continue to grow throughout the remainder of the season.”

Fans enroll in the program by uploading a photo of their driver’s license for age verification and entering a payment method in the Ticketmaster app. Beer, seltzer and packaged snacks are available at the stands, where customers check out via a facial scan on an iPad. Jacobson noted that each Express Beer station also has ambassadors staffed to help users through the process if needed. The Browns estimate it takes fans an average of ten seconds or less to select items and check out using the biometric system.

“We, Aramark Sports and Entertainment, have seen a lot of success in our Walk Thru Bru program, where fans have the ability to see merchandise product, make their own selections, their own beverages and check out in a more traditional point-of-sale,” Jacobson said. “We want to keep that same feel for Express Beer. We have big beverage tankers that have a very visible variety of beverages so that fans can walk through, choose their own beverage, and then at the end of the line have their beverage in hand, scan their face, and head back to their seats.”

The Browns’ Express Beer program aligns well with their Express Access facial recognition ticketing program, also powered by Wicket’s biometric software.

Meanwhile in Canada, the Just Walk Out automated retail system from Amazon Web Services have rolled out at stadiums in Calgary and Toronto, Yahoo reports. Concessions areas in ScotiaBank Arena in Toronto and ScotiaBank Saddledome in Calgary recently launched checkout-free systems based on body-tracking with computer vision AI, but a company representative says biometrics are not involved. Staff will be assigned to the stores to answer questions and enforce age limits for alcohol sales.

UAE telecom deploys facial recognition for autonomous retail

Telcom e&, one of the largest in the United Arab Emirates, has launched an autonomous store that identifies customers with facial recognition to enable the purchase of mobile devices, accessories and services, reports TradeArabia.

The Etisalat by e& Autonomous Store Experience (EASE) platform also includes smart shelves and dispensing machines for fast and convenient customer transactions, the company says.

E& is showcasing its biometric retail concept at Gitex Global this week.

Behavioral AI to combat retail theft

Theft has risen significantly at Kroger, the largest U.S. grocery store by revenue. Last month, Kroger Chief Financial Officer Gary Millerchip told investors that loss of inventory (known as shrink in the industry) at his company increased this spring, with the hike “primarily due to rising theft and organized retail crime.” The company has responded by deploying computer vision AI for behavior analysis, rather than biometrics.

A report by The News & Observer describes that retail theft is not limited to Kroger, which operates 2,750 stores in 35 states, including its 150 Harris Teeters stores in North Carolina. Target, Foot Locker and Dollar General also identified stolen goods as significant issues this year. Walmart has estimated theft costs the company about $3 billion a year.

The National Retail Federation’s latest survey notes that retail shrink rose from $94 billion in 2021 to $112 billion in 2022. The most significant factor contributing to these losses was external theft, which accounted for roughly 36 percent of the overall loss.

“We are implementing initiatives to mitigate the financial impact, including increased security and new technology solutions. But we expect shrink trends will continue to be a challenge for the remainder of the year,” Millerchip said during Kroger’s September earnings call.

One part of the grocer’s approach to security involves using AI-enabled surveillance camera systems. At more than 1,900 Kroger-affiliated stores in the U.S., cameras hover directly above self-service checkout kiosks and capture customer behavior, including items and arm movements. This footage is then fed to a platform called Everseen Visual AI, which analyzes the video to learn shopper behavior and pinpoint irregularities. In 2019, Kroger began to roll out these camera systems, and by last year, Everseen was operating in more than two-thirds of its stores, including Kroger’s Harris Teeter locations.

Everseen tracks both customers’ arm movements and their purchases, according to Reed Hayes, a criminologist at the University of Florida who researches the artificial intelligence program. “When you’re scanning items, your arms might normally go left to right,” he said. “Now, if somebody is not scanning across where the object would be scannable — if they move it towards their body so it’s not over the scanner or they are using their hands to cover up the bar code — those are examples of (the AI) recognizing aberrant behavior.”

Some irregularities are innocent, while others are intentional, like customers who cover the barcodes of more expensive products with tags of less pricey items. When an error is spotted, the system sends an on-screen message to shoppers, asking them to correct it. If the issue goes unresolved, staff are notified to intervene.

Hayes says his organization’s research shows between “half a billion to $2 billion or $3 billion” worth of goods is misplaced each year due to purposeful or accidental self-checkout errors.

However, not all retail crime occurs at checkout stations. Hayes explained that another significant problem is that some people push their shopping carts out of the store without paying. Stores are also addressing these cart pushout incidents with AI technology. One platform from the Canadian company, Gatekeeper Systems recognizes carts that didn’t go through the checkout lanes and locks the wheels before they are taken outside.

Along with cameras and AI software, server improvements have enabled better theft deterrent systems. In recent years, servers have become faster, smaller and quieter. This allows retailers to position servers on-site, closer to the data, in a trend known as edge computing. Instead of routing the data to centralized data centers, companies can obtain faster, real-time information by having the data travel a few feet rather than many miles.

The use of AI in businesses can provide benefits like enhanced protection and efficiency. However, there is a clear concern regarding using AI and surveillance systems. While there is undoubtedly a risk of it being misused, there is also the potential to lower the cost of consumer goods by leveraging AI technology.

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