Tech Senses Shopper's Mood to Adjust Promotions

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Black Friday retailers aren't just seducing customers with flashy deals, price discounts and shiny wrappers, some may also be using advanced facial recognition technology to find out what you like and what it would take to get you to spend your money.

By combining new kinds of face and emotion recognition technology with old-fashioned advertising psychology, companies are better understanding how people react to their products online, or through ads on Facebook, Vine or Instagram, for example.

"The magical thing about using facial coding is that faces don't lie," said Rada el Kaliouby, chief science officer of Affectiva, a Waltham, Mass firm. "It's very transparent." And feelings affect our buying decisions, she said.

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Affectiva and other tech companies have developed methods to distinguish a potential shopper's moods in regard to a product by watching how a face responds. All that's needed is a webcam to tell if the person is pleased, happy, displeased, smirking, confused or angry. The software can also tell whether the person's heart rate level is rising or falling through tiny changes in the his or her skin color.

"Emotions drive aspects of our everyday life, not only how we interact with each other but how we make decisions about what type of house or car you’re going to buy," el Kaliouby said. "It's not really a surprise that brand creators and marketers have been interested in understanding how they drive thing like brand perception and brand loyalty. They've struggled to do that, the typical approach is you just ask people. You watch an ad and ask them are you more willing to buy the product."

Affective and other firms like London-based Real Eyes sell their services to market research firms, which in turn work for big retailers in food, clothing and consumer goods.

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