Quick service restaurants (QSRs) just got quicker. Well, at least this one did.
Global QSR chain CaliBurger, a subsidiary of Cali Group, has been taste-testing a new technology at its Pasadena, California, restaurant and is just about ready to serve it up to the world at the upcoming National Retail Federation trade show from Jan. 14 through Jan. 16.
The technology in question is an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered facial recognition system that identifies customers at self-ordering kiosks and brings up their profiles, including past orders and favorites, as well as loyalty rewards. CaliBurger plans to add face-activated payments to the mix in 2018.
Shorthand: Customers can now order with their faces, and soon, they’ll be able to pay with them too. Kind of brings a new meaning to “face worth a million bucks,” doesn’t it?
But before integrating something as sensitive as payments, the company had to make sure that customers would use the facial recognition kiosk at all.
John Miller, CEO of Cali Group, told Karen Webster in a recent interview that the new kiosk was placed in the store along with the regular old self-ordering kiosk that requires customers to input their phone number or email address manually to access loyalty points.
The idea was to see how people took to the technology. Did customers choose the facial recognition kiosk over the manual entry one? If so, which customers? Did they like it enough to use it again? How was the experience? Miller said that Cali Group took its time getting feedback from customers. Since the technology is so new, it could have made people uncomfortable.
“We know we’re early,” Miller said. “We just want to make sure we’re not too early.”
Is the World Ready for Face Ordering?
It’s a mixed bag, said Miller.
He believes the technology will play out the way self-service kiosks played out at airports. In the beginning, a few embraced the new ways, while many stalwarts held out for human interaction. But today, those kiosks are just part of the airport experience. Everyone uses them, and no one thinks twice.
One day, said Miller, ordering and paying with one’s face will become the norm. Familiarity will breed comfort, and the early adopters will rub off on the rest of the population.
However, it’s true that there are some concerns to be addressed. Webster noted that a lot will depend on where and how customers believe their data is being stored.
“Identity hacks have creeped people out, and they’re more worried about things like this than they used to be,” Webster said.
Miller agreed, saying that some customers had indeed been wary around the newer kiosk. However, he believes that a big part of that caution is simply unfamiliarity with the technology, piled on top of a very bad year for security and data breaches.
Cali Group has poured a lot of time into security, just as it had to do with its burger-flipping robot, Flippy. Flippy’s defenses had to be completely impenetrable, Miller said; it would be catastrophic for someone to hack him and, armed with kitchen utensils, turn him against patrons.
Extreme as that example might be, Miller noted that the same process is going on with self-driving cars, which must be constructed like fortresses against anyone who may wish to harm riders. That’s one reason Miller said CaliBurger did not want to introduce face ordering — and paying — right off the bat.
The other reason was that lingering uncertainty that anybody would ever want to use such a kiosk. The last thing CaliBurger wanted was to discourage visitors who felt fearful about being on camera.
Miller believes that this discomfort will gradually erode. Customers are used to being on camera when they enter any other retail establishment. This, he suggested, is not so different from that, nor is it very far removed from the experience of presenting one’s license at the point of sale. In fact, a computer can probably pick out the fakes with even greater accuracy — if not today, then one day soon.
Staring the Future in the Face
So far, Miller reported, some people love ordering with their faces. Others remain wary, and probably will until this type of technology gains mainstream traction.
The early adopters — largely younger customers, said Miller — love the idea of paying without having to take out their credit card. The executive believes that this is ultimately the direction that offline retail must move to keep up with online retail.
“We don’t want to need mobile apps forever,” Miller said. “With phones, we look at them enough with texting and emailing. We’re getting away from having to look at our phones to do stuff.”
Imagine a bar where there is no bartender, only a self-service kiosk. The kiosk is equipped to handle the entire customer interaction, from identifying that he is of age to charging each drink to his tab to paying up and adding a tip at the end of the night — perhaps without any screen engagement at all, and certainly no fumbling for payment cards, but rather with a simple hand gesture as the customer leaves the establishment.
It’s a long way off, but Miller believes it’s possible, and it could start with technology like this.
Webster says adoption will be a matter of value proposition. Look at eWallets, she said: They’ve been around for years, but they still haven’t gained momentum, because consumers don’t realize what’s in it for them. They cite security concerns, but people are willing to trade a lot of security for convenience, she noted — just look at how much information they broadcast on social media.
A technology that is both seamless and provides value, Webster said, will catch on, and she believes face ordering has the potential to do it.