Automating proof of purchase promotions with OCR (optical character recognition)

At Grand Central, we’ve seen a recent upsurge of in-store promotions where purchasing a given product will entitle consumers to a reward or entry into a prize draw. A typical entry journey could look something like this:

  1. A consumer decides to enter your promotion after seeing advertising or on-pack artwork detailing the prize(s) and entry process.
  2. They purchase an eligible product and visit the website address advertised with the promotion.
  3. On the promotion website, they enter some basic information and upload a photo of their till receipt to illustrate their purchase.
  4. Their receipt is reviewed and if deemed valid for the promotion they are sent their reward or are entered into a draw.

If the promotion becomes popular there may be thousands or hundreds of thousands of receipts which need reviewing and if the review process is carried out manually, funding a review team could become costly.

OCR and validating receipts

One way around the receipt validation headache is to automate the process. We’ve been working hard over the past few years to develop a promotion website platform which includes automation of the receipt review process. It works by extracting text from an uploaded photo, using optical character recognition, then checking this text against a number of rules which are specific to the promotion. 

For example, if a promotion was only valid in Tesco for purchases of two or more bottles of milk, a set of test rules might be:

  1. Is the retailer Tesco?
  2. Are there two or more products matching those in the eligible product database? (This might be Full milk, semi-skimmed milk etc.).
  3. Was the transaction between the dates the promotion is running?
  4. Was the payment method approved?
  5. Is the receipt unique? (i.e. it has not been uploaded for this promotion before).

Each of these rules returns a pass / fail score which allows a decision to be made automatically as to whether the entry should be approved or rejected.

This review automation can be spot-checked, adjusted and overwritten if desired using a secure admin area for managing the promotion website.

Ultimately our platform will allow you to run a proof of purchase promotion with minimal ongoing admin regardless of entry numbers.

Looking ahead – the use of photo recognition in promotions

So far we’ve talked about using optical character recognition technology to validate receipts but with the advent of AI & machine learning, we’ve been working on taking this to the next level. Our next-generation photo module will allow submitted photos to be checked for:

  • Objects
  • Faces / people
  • Colours
  • Obcentitys / adult imagery / violence
  • Dominant colours

With this data, it’s feasible to automate promotions where entry is gained by uploading a photo which meets certain criteria. 

Imagine a promotion where a football team’s supporters are encouraged to upload a selfie of themselves in the team’s kit. Approved photos may appear on the team’s social media and on the promotion website itself. Approved submissions would also be entered into a prize draw.

With our new photo module only photos which meet the following criteria would be automatically approved:

  • Has faces
  • Is selfie
  • Contains one of the team’s colours
  • Does not contain adult imagery, alcohol or violence.

If you are interested in any of the technology mentioned in this article why not get in touch and see how we can help take the admin out of running your next promotion? / 020 8546 0150