Using Biometrics to Identify Consumers – Key Considerations

As the expectations of Millennial and Gen-Z consumers continue to drive the in-store experience, there is and execution gap between customer expectations and retailer capabilities.  The Restaurant Digital Crossroads: The Race to Meet Guest Expectations report, based on research conducted by Incisiv and sponsored by BRP and Windstream Enterprise, exposes that many firms are still unprepared to deliver the frictionless encounter consumers expect. This reality has companies examining any technology that might aid in providing the assumed experience, even if some improvements, such as using biometrics (facial, fingerprint, iris) for patron recognition, are cemented in a debate.  For example, Marriot in China is experimenting with facial recognition to reduce the check-in process.  By using the patron’s photo and profile information, a kiosk will issue a room key, once the guest’s identity is confirmed.

Even though the application of this tech is still in the early stages, it could quickly become a crucial component in providing a frictionless experience in the future. Walmart, BurgerFi, KFC, and Caliburger are some of the first brands to experiment with utilizing this technology for purposes such as; to capture customer satisfaction, trigger loyalty programs, infuse guests’ preferences, and accelerate the transaction process.  However, even with the vast number of business applications, the controversy hovering over this technology is something to keep in mind.

Consumers right to data privacy remains a focal point for authorities both domestically, and internationally. The highly publicized cases, within both the private and public sectors, should bring caution to decision makers when examining how to leverage this technology. However, many companies are exploring these technologies as the benefits from the enhanced capabilities may outweigh the possible public pushback. Organizations should consider the following factors when building a strategy for leveraging biometric identification in-store.

Sell the benefits to both your customers (consumers and staff)

With features such as facial, and fingerprint scanning becoming a more mainstream way for users to authenticate purchases, and unlock their smartphones, it’s not surprising that customers are warming to the notion of brands using biometrics to produce a better experience. A recent BRP study revealed that 30% of shoppers are likely to allow retailers to use their biometric data to enhance the shopping experience. However, for those consumers willing to have their biometric identity collected, a substantial payoff will be expected. So, whether it is a more personal experience, timely offers, or simplifying loyalty program participation, the brand must ensure that the patron will notice the payoff.

Similar to customers, employees are cautious about having “big brother” watching over them. As more employers trend towards adopting biometrics as a means for logging onto registers, or clocking out for lunch, they will be easier to sell the benefits for implementing this new technology. Leaders will need to strive towards turning workers into promoters of these new initiatives, by proving how this solution will not only make their jobs easier to perform, but also help deliver a better experience for the customer.

Informed Opt-In, and Easy Opt-Out for Customers

If any lesson can be learned from Facebook’s ongoing battles to allow their facial recognition capabilities to be available within Canada, and the EU, is that informed opt-in, and easy opt-out is a necessity when implementing this technology. Companies must be prepared to comply with the consumer’s demands of having complete control over his/her privacy, but also the evolving regulations that continually changing. For a brand to successfully navigate through these uncertain times, they need to present customers with a well-informed and simple opt-in and opt-out processes.

The opt-in procedure should include full disclosure, with easy to follow documentation. There cannot be any hidden use cases. The company must be completely upfront about the information collected, and how the company uses that knowledge. Business leaders could even go further by using marketing campaigns, and press releases to communicate to consumers details on any changes to how they handle customer data.

The creation of a customer portal or application would also allow the customer to inspect the personal information collected. This portal can also provide customers with a quick way to opt-out, and to have their data wiped. Once a customer has chosen to opt-out, their data should be blacklisted moving forward. Once the new system identifies the person, all data collection should stop for that particular customer.

Preventing Service Drop off for Opt-out Customers

Some states are taking it upon themselves to ensure that business owners do not punish the opt-outs. In California, companies are awaiting clarification on whether they can offer financial incentives to those who opt into a loyalty plan with the passing of the new 2018 Act. Another concern to consider is ensuring that the consumer’s experience does not suffer for those who decide to opt-out.  Customers expect the same level of service without having to sacrifice their privacy, which firms can prevent by putting the right alternatives, staffing, and training in place.

Cover all your bases

Just recently, TSA has been voluntarily working with the ACLU to ensure that their new facial recognition, is correctly setup to deliver fair results for all patrons.  By taking the time for outside resources, legal, and advocacy groups to vet the core functionality and architecture of the proposed solution, companies can reduce the possibility of a large-scale pushback by the public. This extra effort will also result in a solution that is agile enough to handle future challenges that might surface.


Leaders will be looking to biometrics to aid in providing the frictionless experience expected by Millennial and Gen-Z consumers, even within a continuous elastic climate. The companies who can balance their creativity with due diligence will be more likely to benefit from utilizing this technology, while better also being better prepared to handle its challenges.

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