A whole new decade: the changing face of retail

Author: Sean Taylor, Head of Retail Solutions UK


When you think back to 2010, it doesn’t seem all that far away, does it? But over the past decade, many things have changed – and not just in terms of additional wrinkles.

10 years ago, I was embedded in Panasonic’s UK Olympics delivery office in London. We were responsible for providing the audio-visual, security and broadcast technologies for the 2012 Games..

Since then, I have travelled to six continents, moved house, got married, seen my daughter start her A-levels… and watched my hair start turning grey!


What’s happened in retail?


The retail industry has changed, too – and really very radically. E-commerce has swept all before it. Amazon, already a force to be reckoned with in 2010, continues to dominate and grow. Today, we shop online more than ever – perched on our sofas, we use our Internet-enabled gizmos to buy even the most mundane of things, from toothpaste to loo paper.

And what about bricks-and-mortar shops? Well, things have been happening there, too. Take customer loyalty programmes. They have been with us for a while, but they have evolved and expanded. For example, Sainsbury’s familiar purple Nectar Card, launched in 2002, now has some 18 million registered users. Some 30 companies currently take part in the scheme in the UK, and it is expanding into Europe. It’s also been given a digital update: e.g. a smartphone app that sends customers offers tailored to their purchasing preferences. A further programme, the Tesco Club Card, has been contactless since 2017, and includes an app that allows users to pay and collect points with a single scan.

These apps are helping to bridge the online and offline customer experience. And I think that is increasingly important. Because the rise of e-commerce has gone hand-in-hand with growing consumer expectations. Traditional retailers are therefore under immense pressure – and their focus is now on offering a streamlined omnichannel experience. Think: fast, simple and convenient.


So, what’s next?


More and more people are using their phones for payments and shopping – so what’s the next step for retailers and loyalty programmes? Well, retailers are still investing their mobile apps. AR, VR and facial recognition are hot discussion topics within retail and incorporating these into the loyalty apps may be a logical next step

Indeed, we are becoming increasingly familiar with facial recognition in our day-to-day lives. Some of us leverage the technology to unlock our mobiles. At airports, most of us whizz through the e-gates. And it’s being integrated into apps to let us see what we’ll look like after a few more decades passed (if we want to know!).


Facial recognition for a VIP experience


But what impact might facial recognition in retail have? Well, I can imagine it being used to upgrade loyalty programmes to create an enhanced, VIP-style experience. Picture this: you have walked into a store. Facial recognition technology has identified you, and staff are notified, ready to provide made-to-measure assistance. You use your face to gain access to an exclusive, VIP area. As for paying, there’s no longer a queue – the store knows who you are and can charge the amount to your account or credit card without you having to search and present your card or phone to make the payment. Plus, if you want to collect your shopping at the end of the day rather than lug your bags around everywhere, your purchased items can be placed in a handy locker – that can be opened, again, via facial recognition. The experience would be tailored precisely to your wants and needs.

How realistic is this scenario? In terms of the technology, Panasonic’s FacePro™ deep-learning facial recognition system has highly accurate face-matching abilities. It can recognise individuals even when their face is at a different angle than reference images, or partially obscured, e.g. by sunglasses. What’s more – FacePro™ can even “see into the future”, predicting what people will look like when they are 10 years older.

So, by 2030, will we be using our face to shop – and renewing our customer loyalty IDs after every 10 years, just as we do our passports and driving licences? It’s hard to say. But it’s food for thought, and I look forward to seeing what changes the coming years bring.

Until then, you can read more about FacePro™ here
You can also learn about one way this technology is already being deployed – i.e. to combat shrinkage in stores by identifying known shoplifters.