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Swiss Farm Store Tries RFID-enabled Self-Serve Shopping

Customers can use Near Field Communication (NFC) cell phones to access the store, obtain product information and pay for purchases.
By Andrew Curry
Feb 08, 2010Farmer-operated stores, which focus on locally produced foods, usually have a minimal staff and often lack a point-of-sale infrastructure, like credit-card terminals. That makes farm stores an ideal experimental setting for an RFID-enabled self-service commerce solution developed by a group of Swiss companies.

The system, called "Touch'n Pay," employs passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags compliant with the ISO 14443A standard, as well as RFID-enabled cell phones that support the Near Field Communication (NFC) specifications. It is currently being tested at a Swiss farm store near Zurich.

After normal business hours, customers can use the phone's NFC RFID technology to enter the locked store.

"It's more of a community shop," says Alexander Schuemperli, the CEO of e24, the project's organizer.

E24 decided to begin with the farm store after larger retail chains turned it down, indicating that as long as NFC-based contactless payments were not on the same level as credit cards in terms of distribution, the technology wasn't worth trying. "We could not convince them to use the NFC platform for payments," Schuemperli says. From the farm store's point of view, however, a system that would enable them to receive credit-card payments without a costly infrastructure was an added attraction.

A sign at the farm store instructs customers about how to use the RFID-enabled system.

Using the phone, customers can scan an RFID tag attached to, say, a bottle of wine, to display such information as which company produced it, and when, then add that item to a "shopping cart" on the phone. (For bulk items such as apples, the tag is included in the product display, and customers are responsible for weighing their produce and entering the amount on the phone.) To read a tag, the phone needs to be placed within a few millimeters of it. The customer then pays for the desired goods via SIX Multi Solutions' Mobile Buy secure payment service, which links mobile-phone purchases to a Visa or MasterCard credit-card account.

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