Biometrics in Retail Poised for a Comeback

A retailer that wants to remain competitive today is consistently searching for new workforce management strategies that will create efficiencies to eliminate waste and fraud and maximize employee productivity. Some retailers assess their situation and determine that the only realistic way to create change is investing in technology. Specifically, workforce management technology that holds employees accountable for their actions by eliminating the urge to steal time, which can prove to be a costly expense when extrapolated over a large organization that relies on well-oiled employee productivity as the backbone of their existence. Technology that eliminates sharing passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) to tighten role-based security. Technology that ensures employees spend less time lollygagging and loafing and more time doing what they were paid to do.

Is Biometrics Staging a Comeback?

Ask most retailers about biometric technology and those that have been around long enough will probably associate it with a failed attempt a few years back to integrate it as a widespread point of sale payment method. Although the biometrics industry had good intentions to simplify payment processing by eliminating the need to carry cash or credit/debit cards and instead rely on fingerprints, the technology was not to blame; many attribute the failure on business objectives and poor judgment rather than reliable identification and consistent functionality.

Biometric technology didnt disappear, however. It continued to be used in many other capacities, initially proliferating with governmental deployments but slowly permeating into workforce management, membership management, public safety, healthcare, network security and other vertical markets. Retailers began to see the value of using biometric identification technology for several other areas of their business beyond payment processing:

Loss Prevention: Adopting biometric technology in a retail environment eliminates the need for logon IDs and passwords. An employee cant borrow a swipe card or a PIN to perform a transaction or override that is above their permission level because a manager must be physically present to offer their biometric authentication for the authorization to be completed.

Time and Attendance: Increasingly, retailers are discovering that time and attendance technologies like barcode ID cards, RFID, PINs and manual punch clocks are less expensive short-term fixes, but in the long run, they can be exploited and are susceptible to fraud, rendering them a poor long-term solution. Biometrics solves this problem by eliminating sharing, swapping, stealing and loss of PINs, passwords and ID cards.

Productivity Increases: Biometrics gives back what could possibly be the most important asset that an employee can offer in a retail environment increased productivity. Productivity growth is important to a retailer because it means that it can meet its growing obligations and still stay competitive, or even improve its competitiveness within its vertical market.

The Future of Biometric Deployments in Retail

One of the main obstacles that biometrics faced when used for payment processing was that it relied mostly on fingerprint technology, which tends not to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Fingerprint biometric recognition can be limited by cuts, scrapes, bruises, scars, smudges, ethnicity and skin elasticity, making skin integrity a crucial element of the technologys success.

As biometric technology has evolved however, other modalities have entered the market, offering distinct advantages and a higher tolerance for skin integrity. One of these is vascular biometrics, which uses near infrared light to map out the vein patterns beneath the finger or palm, using them as the basis for biometric identification instead of a fingerprint.

Although fingerprint biometrics continues to be the dominant modality today, technologies like vascular are becoming more widespread as more retailers see the advantage in implementing a biometric system that has a greater chance of identifying nearly 100% of their population.

Retailers continually search for ways to increase employee productivity, stem losses and reduce fraud and waste that existing infrastructure causes due to loopholes and potential chances to exploit. Biometrics is a technology that is gaining traction once again as a trusted identification resource and a reliable tool for retail businesses to consider.

John Trader is a Communications Specialist at M2SYS Technology.