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Watching your elbow: AI tracks everything shoppers pick up

Konica Minolta analyzes body movement, and which items don't make it to the cart

Konica Minolta’s system analyzes shoppers’ movements as they browse through the store to identify what makes them buy certain products.

TOKYO -- Ever get the feeling you are being watched? From next year, that may well be true at some stores in Japan, when Konica Minolta launches a new artificial intelligence system that tracks customer behavior.

The system observes people as they browse through a store, logging which products they pick up, and helps identify why people do, or do not, buy certain things.

Retailers can then use the data to review shelving arrangements and sales promotion strategies.

A camera installed on the ceiling keeps track of changes in the position of shoppers' elbows, hands and other body parts and records which products they pick up by observing how their posture changes. It also logs their gender and which age bracket they fall into.

For privacy purposes, faces will be blurred.

By comparing what the camera sees with point-of-sales data, retailers can see which products are not making it to the cash register.

The company has been conducting verification tests of the system with a major cosmetics maker since February and hopes to launch it commercially in April.

The plan is to roll out the system at 20 to 30 locations in the year ending March 2019. The service is expected to cost a few million yen per survey, with prices varying according to the length of the project and number of stores involved.

A similar system has already been put to use in nursing homes to detect changes in residents' postures and notify caregivers of anything out of the ordinary.

With the domestic office equipment market shrinking, Konica Minolta has been trying to build new sources of revenue such as through marketing assistance.

The company bought print management service providers Charterhouse PM of the U.K. in 2012 and Ergo Asia of Australia two years later. In April this year, two were consolidated into Konica Minolta Marketing Services.

Competitor NEC has also developed technology that uses AI to understand customer behavior and tracks which products they pick up, with a view to marketing the service's ability to reach beyond point-of-sales data.

Konica Minolta, however, appears to have gotten a head start on its rival in the business of figuring out what makes customers tick.

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