Near Field Communication (what a word!) sounds like something from World War II!  It is actually the present and the very much the future.  It refers to technology that can be embedded in mobile devices such as smartphones and allows them to interact with other devices when brought into close proximity of one another. 


The advent of NFC technology in mobile phones enables a rich flow of information between consumers, stores and brands, bringing marketing and information opportunities to traditional stores similar to those in E-commerce.  It is worth noting that although e-commerce has changed the face of business it only accounted for around 12% of consumer purchases in the UK in 2011 (Centre for Retail Research), whereas the bulk still involves traditional retail within bricks and mortar.  

In my opinion there are some big opportunities for retailers to drive benefits by embracing NFC.   I have highlighted some of these opportunities below.


Customer Identification – Hundreds, thousands, even millions of customers walk through our retail shops each day, how many of these do we identify? Yes, if we have a loyalty scheme in place this is one method but largely only if the customer makes a purchase.  Imagine a world where a customer walks into the store and checks in using their NFC device – we would be able to see they have arrived and through business intelligence and customer insight serve them with a personal touch.   

Business Intelligence – If the customer opts-in to allowing their activities to be tracked then data about their buying habits becomes available.  We would have visibility of where a consumer shopped, what they looked at, which marketing incentives they paid attention to, what they purchased and how they paid.   Imagine being able to track customer journeys though stores and allowing customers to zap products to find out more information and serve offers as they shop based on what we already know about them.  We talk about big data; well that data just got a whole lot bigger!


Customer Experience – We live in a world where our customers want even more, want it for less and want it now.  Imagine the convenience we can create for a customer by allowing them to place an order online or through their smart phone on their lunch break and they request a collection time of 6pm, as soon as they arrive in store and check in or even check in at the car park using their NFC device their shopping is ready to collect – zap again and payment has been taken.   

Mobile Payments – NFC is one method to enable mobile payments for a retailer using contactless technology.  As we move into an era where self service will grow rapidly to drive both convenience and cost savings (long term) then mobile payments will be a key method to allow payment for these.  I went into a petrol station last week and was able to get a machine to make me a Costa coffee; I then had to queue behind 4 people paying for petrol to pay for it.  If I had my prepaid account on my NFC phone enabled and the petrol station were set up for contactless payment then it would have been a great experience.  Juniper research has quoted 1 in 4 payments in store will be through NFC by 2017.


NFC will enable us to offer the same personalised and targeted experience to our customers in store as we can through digital, the data we collect will mean we can track their behaviours in store as well as online.  We will also be able to get a holistic view of how they browse, what they buy and how they pay – these to me are some of the true enablers needed to become a truly world class multi-channel business.