Tesco to Deploy Face-Scanning Screens in UK Gas Stations to Serve Better Ads


Tesco, the world’s third-largest retailer, has debuted a new technology in a place where consumers might least expect it—the gas station. 

The British multinational grocer and general merchandise retailer is installing hi-tech screens that scan customers’ faces at gas stations so targeted, tailored ads can be delivered to them. The OptimEyes screen, now being rolled out by Lord Sugar’s Amscreen, will be installed in all 450 Tesco UK filling stations in a five-year deal, according to The Grocer.

“Yes it’s like something out of Minority Report, but this could change the face of British retail and our plans are to expand the screens into as many supermarkets as possible,” said Simon Sugar, CEO of Amscreen, about the high-tech upgrade to Tesco’s petrol station advertising capabilities.[more]

The screen, estimated to reach a weekly audience of more than five million, determines age and gender, adjusts ads according to time and date, and tracks customer purchases. The ads appear on screen for up to 10 seconds on a 100-second loop, and offer branded content about events such as sporting tournaments.

Although Tesco reassured that the scanners will not store data, privacy advocates see a potential issue with the new technology.

“Scanning customers as they walk through the store without customers ever giving permission for them to be scanned in that way … there’s a huge consent issue there,” Nick Pickles of consumer ad watchdog Big Brother Watch told The Guardian. “If people were told that every time they walked into a supermarket, or a doctor’s surgery or a law firm, that the CCTV camera in the corner is trying to find out who they are, I think that will have a huge impact on what buildings people go into.”

Peter Cattell, category director for Tesco petrol stations, begs to differ. “The ability to tailor content based on time and location means this can be extremely useful and timely for interacting with our customers.”

Ke Que, COO of Quividi, the Paris-based company enabling the personalized digital signage for Tesco, also defended his firm’s technology to The Guardian:

“We don’t do facial recognition, we do face detection. It’s software which works from the video feed coming off the camera. It can detect if it’s seeing a face, but it never records the image or biomorphological information or traits. It picks up if it’s seeing a man or a woman, the amount of time they pay attention to the screen, and their presence in front of the screen. The key thing though is that it never records or remembers any information. If you go from one camera in one location to another, it can’t tell.”

The screens won’t be Tesco’s first attempt at adding technology to everyday experiences like shopping and gas tank fill-ups. The retailer has previously tested virtual shopping screens in metros and employs over 5,000 people at a technology center in India focused on store improvements. 

The move isn’t without precedent beyond the UK. Japan, for example, has also tested personalized, responsive digital signage. The big question: will consumers find them creepy or helpful? Share your thoughts in the comments below.