By Claire Swedberg
Dec. 7, 2011—Anticipating the proliferation of Near Field Communication (NFC
technology within the next few years, Florida software applications firm Narian Technologies
intends to launch an NFC solution during the first quarter of 2012, for consumers to use at retail stores in order to summon assistance from employees. The system will be installed by approximately two dozen independent stores nationwide, according to Einar Rosenberg, Narian Technologies' CEO, and will be piloted by between three and six chain retailers by the end of that quarter.
Narian Technologies is offering its Narian Retail Services NFC solution in partnership with UPM RFID
, which will provide the high-frequency
(HF) passive RFID tags that stores will install to enable customers to make service requests. Shoppers would be able to tap their phones against the tags and, in some cases, then respond to phone prompts to request a specific service, such as, for example, calling a waitress to their restaurant table, receiving a page when their number comes up at a deli counter, or speaking with a salesperson within an electronics store's television section.
The Narian Retail NFC phone app launches each time a consumer taps the phone against a Narian RFID tag at a participating store.
The system is designed to be inexpensive for retailers and easy to deploy. First, a store would lease the Narian Retail Services NFC platform, including access to the Narian-hosted server on which data and reports related to the system's operation can be reviewed. The retailer would indicate some details regarding its facility, as well as the types of services it needs, and Narian Technologies would then send an order to UPM RFID for the appropriate quantity of RFID tags, each specific to a location within a store. The store would indicate the number of staff members it has, and each employee would receive an RFID tag badge. The store would then attach the tags to locations around the business, and it could attach its own logo to the front of the tags as well, with text printed on the tag instructing customers with NFC-enabled phones to "tap this tag."
As many as a dozen or more potential applications are presently being tested, but one element that they all have in common is the paging service, to help customers alert the store that they require assistance. For instance, the Service Pager application enables a customer to ask for help at a particular department. First, UPM tags are attached within each department in which customers may need assistance from the sales staff. A shopper would see the tag with the store's logo, along with instructions to tap his or her NFC-enabled phone at that location. Upon tapping the phone, the customer would then be invited to download the free Narian Retail Services NFC application. Once installed, the app would launch automatically on that individual's phone, each time that he or she tapped it against any tag that is part of the Narian system, at any store. The phone would then display several options, such as learning about daily deals being offered by that department, or requesting service.
If the patron seeks assistance from a sales associate, that request is sent via the phone's cellular connection to the server, which then issues a page to the specific individual assigned to that department. When the salesperson arrives, the customer is instructed to tap the phone against that individual's employee badge, thereby indicating that the request has been fulfilled. The data is then updated on the Narian server, indicating who responded to the request, and how quickly.
The data enables management to track patterns within stores, such as how often customers request service, as well as which workers respond most quickly, and also allows a company to offer bonuses to staff members who score the lowest response times.
For customers, Rosenberg says, the benefit is faster service. "A big-box store can be 60,000 square feet," he notes. "Who has time to look for a salesperson in that kind of environment?" The system not only gets a message out to personnel, he adds, but also ensures that the message is sent to the staff member specifically assigned to that department.
In the future, several supermarkets will launch or pilot a similar Narian application, known as Line Pager, in which customers can use the system to reduce wait times at deli counters. Upon approaching the counter, a shopper would take a numbered ticket, as is tradition, while also tapping his or her NFC
-enabled phone against a Narian tag
. The phone app would ask that user to input the ticket's deli-counter number, after which the Narian platform would monitor which number was currently being served. The individual could then proceed with shopping elsewhere within the store until a number close to that on the ticket is served, at which time the customer would receive a message indicating that he or she should return to the deli counter, as that person's number will soon be called. After returning to the counter, the customer would then tap the phone against the tag once more, indicating that he or she has returned and is ready to be served.
Another application is the Non-linear Pager, in which a customer can again tap his or her phone and, in this case, indicate the kind of service required, such as returning or exchanging an item that had been previously purchased. The system can then notify store employees, and if there is a line at the customer service desk, the shopper can continue shopping and receive a page when the appropriate personnel will soon be available.
The system can be deployed within restaurants as well, Rosenberg says. In this case, tags would be placed at tables, or at the hostess' station, and would also be provided to the wait staff. Customers could use their phones to tap a tag at the hostess' station upon arriving, as well as receive a page when a table is ready. Once seated, they could then utilize the phone to tap a tag at the table in order to summon their personal server.
The app is free to consumers, while stores would pay a monthly fee of $20, covering up to 400 transactions, each consisting of a request for service and a response from the store or restaurant. Initially, Rosenberg says, because few consumers currently have NFC-enabled phones, a retailer is unlikely to exceed 400 transactions per month, though that is likely to change as a greater number of phones equipped with NFC technology become available on the market. For each service request and response beyond 400 per month, Rosenberg says, the cost is 5 cents. Initially, Narian Technologies is also covering the cost of the tags, though customers may eventually need to purchase them; he expects the tags to cost less than $1 apiece.