How NFC Plus Location Is Changing Product Distribution, Retailing

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2015-02-26 Print this article Print
NFC Retailing

So along comes a customer looking to buy a special gift for a client. This customer doesn't know a lot about whiskey, but knows the client is a big fan of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. By using his smartphone and tapping on one of the bottles on the shelf, he can see that it's definitely the right kind, that it's verified authentic, that hasn't been opened and—best of all—that he can buy two for the price of one.

So the customer buys two bottles (using a tokenized smartphone NFC point-of-sale (POS) system, like Google Wallet or Apple Pay, of course!) to score one gift for a client and one gift for himself.

The customer brings the bottle home and taps it again with the smartphone. Thanks to the smartphone's location awareness, the app knows the bottle has been brought home. The Thinfilm system knows the bottle hasn't been opened, and so the app offers storage tips and other information, rather than the promotional information it displayed at the store.

After the bottle has been opened, another tap of the smartphone suggests drink recipes and other relevant content, as well as one-tap reordering.

Thinfilm's prototype brilliantly illustrates the power of NFC technology combined with location awareness. Let's review what's going on here.

A product, such as a bottle of whiskey, has no battery, no GPS capability, no Internet connection and no ability to run apps. But with a label augmented by something like Thinfilm's OpenSense NFC tag, a smartphone with NFC capability gives it all those powers for just a moment. The phone becomes a magic wand that transforms an object into one that can provide any amount of information about itself based on the person, the location, the state of the product and other contextual information.

It tells the person using a smartphone app, "This is what you just tapped; here's all the information you need to know about it in its current location." And it tells a remote server, "This specific person touched the label at this time in this location and took these actions."

Right now, NFC is viewed by the public as an up-and-coming mobile payments wireless technology. In fact, we're on the edge of an explosion in growth across many vertical business applications, which thanks to location- and biometric-enabled smartphones, will transform access control, booking, health care, transportation, all kinds of services, delivery, manufacturing and more.

Smartphone NFC for POS convenience and security is nice. But it's just one of thousands of potential uses for the technology. The true promise will be realized when that's combined in creative ways by developers who leverage the smartphone's other sensors, especially the location electronics.

Imagine the possibilities when any object can be cheaply added to the Internet of things and made intelligent, interactive and connected by any authorized person with a smartphone.


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