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Retailers Adopt NFC-enabled Electronic Shelf Labels

Store Electronic Systems is now marketing the labels, designed together with NXP, so that stores can provide product info and promotions to customers via a tap of a smartphone.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 12, 2013

Store Electronic Systems (SES), a French electronic shelf-labeling company, has developed—together with RFID integrated circuit (IC) provider NXP Semiconductors—a solution enabling retailers to share product information, coupons and loyalty bonuses with consumers via Near Field Communication (NFC) technology built into SES' electronic shelf labels and the customers' own smartphones.

SES' electronic shelf-labeling technology, known as Radio Force X4 (RFX4), consists of radio transmitters and antennas that send out pricing and product data to battery-powered shelf labels via 36 kHz low-frequency (LF) signals, using a proprietary air-interface protocol. To date, the company reports, its electronic shelf-labeling systems have been installed at 5,300 stores within 50 countries. The firm's electronic shelf labels, available in a variety of sizes and form factors, all have some sort of built-in screen for displaying the prices of the products stacked on a store's shelving. Some SES labels can also present product-related text and graphics. The RFX4 system allows stores to update pricing and other product information by transmitting changes to each label.

After installing an application on their smartphone, consumers can receive additional product information by merely tapping their handset against a particular item's NFC-enabled electronic shelf label.

The NFC-enabled electronic label comes with a high-definition, 127-dpi graphic screen, as well as an Identive 13.56 MHz passive NFC RFID tag made with NXP's NTAG chip, compliant with the NFC Forum's Type 2 tag standard. With the addition of the NFC technology to the SES labels, retailers can share more data with consumers than is available on the label's screen, by enabling users to access additional information via their NFC-enabled smartphones. The NFC-enabled labels have been in use at seven E.Leclerc hypermarkets, beginning with 47,000 labels installed during October 2012, and are being adopted this year by seven additional retail chains throughout France.

Upon arriving at one of the seven participating E.Leclerc stores, a customer can first download the retailer's app onto his or her phone at an NFC RFID tag posted near an entrance or other commonly passed area. Then, while walking through the aisles, the shopper will see some basic product information, including each item's name and pricing, displayed on the SES shelf labels. However, the patron can also tap the label with his or her phone, which then captures the unique ID number encoded to the label's RFID tag, thereby directing the phone, via a 3G or Wi-Fi connection, to a link where it can access more data regarding that product, as well as coupons or loyalty benefits. The customer then redeems those coupons or points by presenting the phone to be read or viewed by the store's checkout staff.

The inclusion of NFC technology in the shelf labels, says Guillaume Portier, SES' marketing VP, provides "brick-and-mortar stores the ability to connect personally and seamlessly with end users within the stores."

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