And in the NFC Corner: Casino Supermarket in France

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13 September 2012
Zilvinas Bareisis
Just as Apple was announcing that its latest iPhone 5 would not include NFC (see my previous blog), NFC World reported that Casino, a large supermarket chain in France announced opening the "world's first NFC-enabled supermarket." The products would have NFC tags, which could be scanned by customers with their NFC-enabled phones in order to get product details, add items to the shopping basket, and, ultimately, check out at the till. So, how significant is this for NFC payments? While the Casino supermarket talks about enabling NFC payments in the future, at the moment its focus is on using NFC tags to provide information about the products and to scan the items to add to the shopping basket. These are two distinct and valid uses of NFC technology, both of which have been implemented in the past, with NFC and without. Last year, Museum of London has partnered with Nokia to deploy NFC tags so that visitors with NFC phones could enrich their experience and get more information about the objects they see. Scanning items to add to the shopping basket has also been done before:
  • The UK supermarket chain Tesco had a big success in Korea with its virtual shop displays in the train stations, which allows commuters to scan the items they want with their phone and have purchases delivered to their home. QR technology was used there instead of NFC.
  • In the US, Wal-Mart has just announced a phone app which would allow the shoppers to "scan & go".
  • And in the UK, Sainsbury's has had a way for shoppers to scan items as they load them into a shopping trolley for a few years now. Once registered, the shopper can take one of many available portable barcode scanners at the entrance and scan the item before putting it in the trolley. When done with shopping, they go to a dedicated lane and don't have to scan their items again - just present the scanner to the register for the total, and check out in a normal way. To "encourage honesty", there are random checks when you might be asked to re-scan all the items as you would at a regular till. Personally, I tried it a couple of times, and found that I didn't like having to carry around the scanner (the phone would not have made any difference) and always think about scanning every item as I put it into my trolley for the sake of saving a few minutes at the checkout. It would be interesting to see some statistics; anecdotally, I see some people using it, but it must be single digit percentage of shoppers.
My point is that the emphasis here is less on payments, but more on the shopping/ retailing experience and while NFC might be a valid technology to improve that experience, there are many other ways to achieve the same objective.

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