Advertising Gets Personal With RFID System for Shoppers

By Claire Swedberg

A newly launched solution from LUV Advertisements uses RFID to identify the interests of a loyalty card-carrying shopper, and displays video content most appropriate for that individual.

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California Startup advertising services company LUV Advertisements, owned by a firm known as Internal Positioning Systems (IPS), is selling a new solution for bringing personalized advertising or other messages to individuals carrying radio frequency identification tags. The company is currently in conversations with several big-box retailers, supermarkets and casinos to launch pilots of its brand, known as LUV Smart Digital Signage.

IPS was launched in 2007 to research and develop solutions that could provide indoor location as an alternative to GPS technology. In fact, the name IPS is intended to be a play on that effort. LUV Advertisements is an offshoot of IPS with an RFID focus, according to Chris Contessa, LUV Advertisements’ founder. LUV focuses on personalizing the messages that individuals view on signage while walking through a business. Contessa says the concept of employing RFID to accomplish this came to him while taking a cruise in which he and his fellow travelers were discussing the shortcomings of a paper printout map they were using to navigate their way around the large ship. Upon returning home, he began researching ways in which to develop an RFID system that could provide individuals with required information, based on their location.

Chris Contessa, LUV Advertisements’ founder, and the LUV Smart Digital Signage system

The company spent several years testing off-the-shelf passive tags and readers, starting with high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz versions, and then ultrahigh-frequency (UHF), as well as developing software to enable a system in which personal data (such as demographics and purchasing history) regarding an individual carrying an RFID tag could be identified based on a tag read, and the system could then prompt the appropriate video content to display on an LCD screen for that individual.

The readers that the firm has found to be most effective include products from ThingMagic and SkyeTek, while it has also worked with RFID tags and cards provided by Avery Dennison and DSS Plastics Group. However, Contessa says, LUV intends to remain technology-agnostic—some applications might fare better with the features of one RFID product or another—and does not want to be locked into a contract with any specific hardware company. LUV’s own staff developed the Smart Digital Signage solution, he adds, without significant input from any RFID technology providers.

“Read range has been a challenge,” Contessa states. “We completed quite a bit of testing, and since UHF power has improved [since testing began], we can achieve a four- to eight-foot range,” even if the card is in a wallet or purse.

A reader can reach up to a 20-foot range in a clear line-of-sight scenario, such as a tag on a lanyard worn by a health-care worker walking down the relatively clear aisle of a hospital or nursing home.

In a typical retailer pilot installation, LUV would install 10 to 50 LCD digital signs around store aisles. There could be a reader installed at each sign, or more than that if a user wanted to collect more analytics-based data about the movement of traffic or individuals throughout the building. Readers would be cabled to a back-end server, on which LUV’s cloud-based software could receive and manage the collected read data.

During a pilot, Contessa says he expects a retailer to distribute at least 10,000 UHF RFID tags built into loyalty cards provided by LUV. Once issued the card, a shopper would be prompted to input personal data to be stored in the retailer’s management software. This data could include gender, shopping interests, age range and average income.

The customer’s location and movements within the store could be collected, in order to create a profile indicating how long he or she stayed in a specific aisle, or near particular product types. When the shopper uses the RFID loyalty card to purchase merchandise, his or her purchasing history could also be stored with the card tag’s unique ID number.

The primary value for a retailer is in providing a personalized message on the digital signage, however. In this case, as a customer nears a digital monitor, its reader captures his or her card’s tag ID and forwards that information to LUV’s cloud-based software. Based on that person’s demographic data and shopping history, the monitor would then display advertising most likely to be of interest.

If several people are near a digital monitor, each with his or her own RFID-enabled loyalty card, the reader captures all of the unique IDs and the software creates a “virtual person” with all the demographics and purchasing history combined. The software then determines the advertising message that would interest that virtual person most effectively, and displays that message while those shoppers are within read range.

LUV provides its solution using a Software as a Service (SaaS) model to include access to cloud-based data such as analytics, as well as LCD screens, readers and reader antennas, a microcomputer to receive reader data and forward it to the server, and the RFID tags built into loyalty cards—all for a monthly fee. The readers can be installed in ceilings or on walls, and can be directed to read tags in specific directions. The reader power can be adjusted, thereby changing the read range, Contessa says.

The company is also offering a health-care version of its solution that could be used at hospitals or nursing homes. In this case, rather than advertising, information of specific interest to a patient or visitor could be displayed on a screen within certain rooms, once that person’s tag was interrogated. For example, if a patient wants to receive messages from loved ones, the system could display those messages as he or she, for instance, is moved into surgery. The system could also be linked to additional hospital services—for example, adjusting music to that patient’s liking as he or she enters a room.

“Retail is first,” Contessa says, and the company is speaking with supermarkets and big-box stores now, though it intends to begin working with hospitals and nursing homes in approximately a month. “The platform has benefits for lots of different markets,” he states.