‘Retail without technology is not going to work’: Ruti is using facial recognition technology in stores to boost sales

A customer walking into Ruti’s new flagship store that opens in New York City next week might be greeted by a sales associate with a seeming photographic memory of her size, past purchases and more. The tech behind the recall: facial recognition.

Designer Ruti Zisser, owner of the decade-old California-based fashion brand, believes technology is the key to building a successful in-store experience that delivers on personalization. The brand started deploying facial recognition technology into each of its nine stores last year.

Now, when customers walk into one of the stores, a series of cameras scan and take photos of customer faces. Those photos are stored in the brand’s CRM, along with information about their shopping habits and style preferences. When the customer returns to the store, those same cameras are able to scan the customer’s face and identify them as a repeat customer, pulling up their shopping history and customer profile within seconds. The technology automatically pulls five to six items from the most recent collection, with pictures of those items, and shares recommended sizes for the sales associate to pull to help ensure the customer will have an easy try-on experience in the dressing room.

The brand declined to share specific sales, but Zisser said adding this technology has grown in-store sales “massively.” The brand’s estimated annual revenue is around $9.6 million.

It may seem like helpful technology for the retailer to have, and in fact, it has proven successful for Ruti, but there’s always a chance of scaring a customer off, especially at a time when consumers are hyper-aware of invasive technology and protecting their data and privacy from advertisers and brands. Facial technology, of course, comes with many of those privacy concerns.

A recent report from e-commerce software company Elastic Path found that 53% of consumers are put off by technology like this, specifically because they worry about their privacy.

“Consumers have an appetite for experiences that make shopping easier, whether that’s VR that shows you what a dress would look like in a color that’s out of stock or checkout-less payments. Brands should certainly be looking to implement new tech, and they need to keep the customers’ convenience as a core consideration when deciding what technology to invest in,” said Darin Archer, chief strategy officer at Elastic Path.

“I think everyone understands that we don’t really want to know everything about who you are; we just want to serve those customers better,” said Zisser.

Like many retailers and fashion brands using this technology, the brand does not immediately disclose to customers who enter the store that their image is being captured by the facial recognition technology. However, the brand does receive customer approval before officially adding them, and their data, to its system. Other retailers have taken a similar approach. Target and Walmart, for example, have tested the technology to combat theft in stores, per CB Insights.

“Retail with no technology is not going to work. Some stores don’t even have the email addresses of their customers. At a lot of the big retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, sales associates are using physical books, and when they leave that store [for a new job], they take the book with them. The idea that the company doesn’t have all that information is insane,” she said.

Zisser said her goal with the technology is to make stepping into a Ruti store feel reminiscent of an experience in an old school Parisian boutique, where sales associates know exactly who each customer is as soon as she enters the store, what her style is and what pieces from the new collection she might like. It’s also a great sales driver, she said.

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