Walmart Tried, Gave Up On Using Facial Recognition Software To ID Shoplifters

If you’ve ever known a shoplifter, you’ve probably noticed that he or she has a tendency to hit up the same stores over and over until those victimized retailers either nab the shoplifter or do something to make theft more difficult. It would make seem to make sense then for Walmart to deploy a facial recognition program to identify known or suspected offenders. So why did the company recently give up on this sort of system?

In a story for Fortune.com, Walmart was the only major national retailer that would confirm the use of face-scanning technology.

The retailer acknowledged that some sort of automated recognition program — which would alert store personnel to the presence of a potential thief — had been tested at various Walmart stores around the country, but that the company pulled the plug on it earlier in the year.

A Walmart rep explains that the system simply wasn’t providing the return on investment needed to justify its use.

“We were looking for a concrete business rationale,” says the rep to Fortune.

One factor not mentioned in the story is the fact that a large amount of shoplifting and product loss at big box retail stores — not just Walmart — involves employees. Facial recognition software may be pointless when the pilferer is already someone you recognize without expensive technology.

Back in 2012, a Best Buy employee told us that around 60% of the theft at his store was internal, which is why his location did away with the often-hated process of checking bags and receipts.

“Why are we slowing down the entering and exit of the building by our paying customers for something that even by our own numbers, they barely contribute to?,” he explained of the thought process behind the change.

It’s possible that Walmart came to a similar realization when testing the facial recognition software.