A New York grocery store is using biometrics including eye scanners and voice prints to identify repeat shoplifters. Some shoppers say that's creepy — even if it deters theft.
- New York City grocer Fairway is collecting biometric data on its shoppers to catch shoplifters, the New York Post reported.
- Shoppers have mixed reactions to the technology.
A New York City grocery chain is trying to recognize its customers better — in case they steal something.
Fairway is gathering facial recognition and other biometric information, such as voice recordings, on shoppers at one of its Manhattan locations, local news website ilovetheupperwestside.com reported on Tuesday. The goal is to identify shoplifters, the supermarket said. The New York Post reported on Fairway's use of the technology on Thursday.
"We have found that this technology — used thoughtfully and in combination with other measures we take to reduce theft — is helping prevent more crime in store," Fairway told the Post. Fairway did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Fairway is collecting the biometric data at one of its locations on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The chain operates four grocery stores in the borough.
One Fairway shopper interviewed by the Post said the technology constituted an invasion of their privacy. "It's a little creepy," Shawn Adams, a 37-year-old shopper, told the Post. But Anette Ronner, a 77-year-old retired fashion industry worker, told the Post, "I'm leaning towards acceptance. I think it will deter some shoplifting, which we all end up paying for eventually with higher and higher prices."
Fairway told the Post that its system will only be accessed by "trained asset protection associates." The chain added that it is trying to find repeat shoplifters. Nearly one-third of the arrests made for shoplifting in New York City last year involved the same 327 people, the Post reported in January.
Fairway is far from the first retailer to collect its customers' biometric data. Lowe's, Macy's, and grocery store Albertsons are among the stores that use facial recognition, The Verge reported in 2021. Civil rights groups have opposed that approach, arguing that it infringes on customers' privacy.
Some retailers, including Walmart, Target, and Home Depot, have said they will not collect that information on shoppers.
Shoplifting has become a bigger problem over the last few years, the nation's largest retailers have said. Collectively, retailers say they lose billions of dollars a year to theft, especially to "organized retail crime," or the coordinated theft of goods that typically involves teams of individuals.
Chains, including Walmart and Target, have been vocal about the problem. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon even said the company would close stores if the problem didn't abate.
But other retailers have said that the problem has been overstated. In January, Walgreens CFO James Kehoe said that his company "cried too much" about the theft problem and that the drugstore chain was considering cutting back on private security guards at its stores.
In 2021, Walgreens shuttered some San Francisco stores and citing rising theft as the cause. But an investigation that year by the San Francisco Chronicle found that the affected stores reported fewer than two shoplifting incidents per month leading up to the closures.
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