Tracking customers by their cellphone’s Wi-Fi connection is so low-tech, at least when you compare it to the facial recognition software that is being tested by some retailers. Last week Nordstrom faced a bit of backlash after the company’s store-tracking policy made headlines. The same people who complained of privacy violations are going to be downright outraged when they hear about a new pilot program that uses facial recognition software to identify VIP shoppers.

British firm NEC IT Solutions created a facial recognition software program that is already used in the security sector, but this same technology can be beneficial to retailers that want to know when a celebrity or other VIP steps into their stores. Sure, employees might recognize Beyonce or Brad Pitt if they walk into the store, but what about the thousands of other celebrities that blend in with other shoppers?

In a post on NPR’s All Tech Considered blog, Brenda Salinas shared the story of one small boutique retailer in Los Angeles. “When a young Indian-American woman walked into the funky L.A. jewelry boutique Tarina Tarantino, store manager Lauren Twisselman thought she was just like any other customer. She didn't realize the woman was actress and writer Mindy Kaling.”

Kaling, an actress and writer, has an impressive resume. Kaling both wrote for and appeared in the hit television series "The Office," she headlines "The Mindy Project" on Fox and was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2013. Kaling may not be immediately recognizable to everyone, but she is definitely a VIP and retailers want to know when someone of her caliber steps into their stores.

Tarina Tarantino manager Twisselman told NPR, "I like to think that we treat all our customers like VIPs." While that may be the case at this specific store, history shows that celebrities and other VIPs receive better customer service and more attention than your standard everyday customer. 

I’m sure if I walked into the store, I’d receive the attention that I needed, but employees wouldn’t be falling over themselves to ensure I had the best possible shopping experience. Perhaps I’m wrong, though, and the staff at Tarina Tarantino does treat every shopper like a VIP. If this type of customer service becomes the new norm then NEC IT Solutions better stick to the security sector.

Forget cellphone tracking; retailers prepare for facial recognition
Facial recognition software used by the security industry finds a home in the retail sector.