Alibaba trials facial payments giving shoppers discounts for smiling

Alibaba's facial payment technology

Alibaba’s facial payment technology

Alibaba is trialling a ‘happiness meter’ in its new Futuremart store at its Hangzhou, China HQ, which gives shoppers discounts depending on their mood.

The feature works with the facial recognition payment technology the retail giant has been developing over the past couple of years at participating retailers.

Upon entering the store, customers must check in by both having their faces read, and scanning a QR code with their Alipay, Taobao or Tmall apps, to allow them to shop. Upon leaving, they then have their faces scanned one more time, which in turn will use the “Happy Go” feature to reward discounts for those who are smiling.

Alibaba has been making strides in developing consumer-facing facial recognition technology, famously launching its first smile-to-pay feature at a KFC restaurant in the same Chinese city in 2017.

The strategy also involves major investments in two out of the three facial recognition startups in China, all of which are valued at over $1 billion. This month, it led a $600 million investment round on SenseTime, a Hong Kong-based company whose software is used by businesses, and SNOW, a popular Snapchat-type of app that uses SenseTime to power augmented reality visuals. Its most important client however is the Chinese government, which deploys the technology in public spaces and compares ‘live’ faces against an existing database.

As noted earlier this month, Asia has leapfrogged the West in terms of technologically-enhanced retail experiences, partly due to the Asian consumer’s ease of adoption of technologies, particularly in China. In the US, Amazon Go’s just-walk-out technology was initially met with some skepticism, noted during this year’s Shoptalk by Gianna Puerini, VP of Amazon Go, who said consumers are having to learn the behavior of not having a traditional checkout experience.

As pilot concepts develop both in the East and West, it will be interesting to watch this space to see which will eventually be deployed at mass scale in order to enhance the physical experience.