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Bon-Ton Brings NFC to Shoe Displays

The U.S. department store retailer has installed an NFC RFID-based solution within 32 of its shoe departments, to test how the technology can help shoppers locate the size, color and style of shoes they seek while at a store.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 03, 2013

While browsing through shoe displays at 32 of Bon-Ton's U.S. department stores, shoppers can use their Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled phones to learn more about each style, as well as whether a specific size and color is available at the store—and, if not, how they can most efficiently acquire the shoes they are seeking. Last month, the company launched the RFID-based solution from Thinaire, including Thinaire's software platform and Smartrac RFID tags, made with NXP Semiconductors' NTAG chips, attached to each display shoe. The department store plans next month to evaluate customer responses to the solution, and to determine how it has affected sales.

Bon-Ton operates 273 stores that sell apparel, bedding, beauty products and houseware. As with most retailers, the company's brick-and-mortar stores must compete with online shopping. For that reason, it is critical that the stores be able to provide customers with easy access to product information (in this case, a pair of shoes) in the size and style being sought. If the product is not available at a store, the shopper's NFC-enabled phone will list inventory information for that product at other nearby Bon-Ton locations, or provide the opportunity to complete an online sale through the retailer's mobile commerce channel.

"In general, we are looking for ways to link our retail environment with our digital one," says Luis Fernandez, Bon-Ton Stores Inc.'s executive VP and chief omni-channel officer. "In the case of this technology, we think it's the simplest interface that accomplishes this goal."

By employing NFC technology, Bon-Ton aims to provide relevant product information to consumers at the moment of engagements, says Mark Donovan, Thinaire's chief operating officer. If a customer has an NFC phone, he or she can simply pick up a shoe, turn it over and tap the phone against the Smartrac tag attached to the sole. The phone's reader captures the tag's ID number and directs the phone's web browser to Thinaire's server, where the software platform determines the stock-keeping unit (SKU) associated with that shoe, as well as the store in which that particular tag (and, therefore, the customer) is located. The software then delivers information about that product to the consumer's phone.

The shopper can select the size and color of the shoe she is interested in buying. If the desired footwear is unavailable, the consumer is then shown information about the closest Bon-Ton store carrying that product, or is directed to make the purchase from Bon-Ton online. If it is available at the store, the app informs the patron of that fact, and she can proceed to seek help from a sales representative or search for the product on the shelf.

"At Thinaire, we are keenly focused on [providing] retailers with a way to control the showrooming experience, rather than being victimized by it," Donovan states. "As the levels of smartphone use continue to rise at meteoric rates, providing meaningful engagement experiences that enhance the brick-and-mortar shopper experience is key to a retailer's success."

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