Is The Best Use Of NFC Just To Connect Customers With CRM?

Written by Frank Hayes
September 5th, 2012

Maybe mobile payments are literally the last thing we should be using NFC-enabled phones for. At this week’s IFA 2012 tradeshow in Berlin, Sony and Nokia are separately showing TVs and speakers that consumers can use to play music and videos from their smartphones. Their neat trick is that they use the phone’s NFC to negotiate a Bluetooth connection with the AV gear.

Now imagine the same idea used in-store: A customer walks in, taps her phone against a pedestal-style kiosk and is automatically connected to the chain’s CRM system via a secure Wi-Fi network. After that, everything she does in-store is CRM gravy.

She can get targeted offers and coupons immediately, or when she walks into an appropriate department. She’s already logged into the loyalty system, so that’s one less thing to do at the POS. And if the store wants to offer in-aisle self-checkout, she already has a secure connection to the system.

That could solve several problems at once. Retailers have been looking for ways to automatically spot loyalty (and, especially, known high-value) customers when they walk in the door, not just when they arrive at the POS. Chains are also trying to figure out how to make good use of in-store Wi-Fi—yes, customers will use it to compare prices. But if they’re checked in, at least they can receive pitches from the store they’re in, too.

But right now, spotting loyalty customers is a technical nightmare. There’s no simple way to do it using the mobile network, especially without the active cooperation of mobile operators. That means unless the phone’s Wi-Fi is turned on and the chain’s app is running, the customer won’t be detected. It also means the in-store Wi-Fi has to be open, which means it’s fine for beaming coupons but not secure enough for in-aisle POS.

Using Wi-Fi for CRM-heavy activities would make blanketing stores with customer-facing wireless a lot more appealing to chains that are still trying to figure out how to get a return on that investment. For example, U.K. grocer Sainsbury’s just ended its Wi-Fi pilot in several big stores, deciding not to offer Wi-Fi anywhere in the chain. Sainsbury’s won’t say why the pilot was killed, but chances are the chain just couldn’t see a store advantage that justified the cost.

We haven’t seen an NFC-to-Wi-Fi-to-CRM approach from any big chain, but it seems like a logical way to make it work.

Let’s go back to the walk-in scenario: The customer walks in and taps the kiosk with the phone. (Actually, like a contactless card, it’s probably more like touching phone to kiosk for a couple of seconds.) If the chain’s app is running, it could react to the NFC signal, turn on the phone’s Wi-Fi, receive a password via NFC to log onto the secure wireless network and then log into the CRM system.

At that point, NFC’s part is done. The rest is all Wi-Fi and CRM.

The store knows the customer is there. The customer gets free Wi-Fi. And none of this requires a mobile signal.


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