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RFID Delivers Location-Based Data at Helsinki Mall

The mall operator and 15 retailers are using an RFID-based system called Physical Cookie, instead of Bluetooth beacons, to identify shoppers' locations and deliver personalized marketing messages on digital signs.
By Claire Swedberg
Tags: Retail
Apr 07, 2015

While Bluetooth beacon use is expanding at retail locations to push promotional content to customers on their smartphones, a Finnish shopping-mall owner has been trialing a solution using RFID technology to provide the same kind of location-specific content, without involving a shopper's personal information or phone.

Since mid-2014, several thousand shoppers at the Citycenter shopping mall in Helsinki, Finland, have been using RFID tags known as Citycenter VIP Keys to receive marketing messages related to their shopping behavior, as well as discount offers at stores they often visit. The mall's owner, Sponda Plc., and \Pilot, the innovation unit of Finish marketing agency TBWA\Helsinki, developed the system, known as the Physical Cookie, to identify shoppers' movements around the property, and to analyze that behavior and display appropriate content on digital screens installed throughout the mall as an individual approaches them.

The VIP Key contains a passive EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay.
The system was launched as a four-month pilot in 2014, and when the trial ended in December, Sponda opted to continue operating the system, while it considers its options for expanding the solution's use to other merchants within the shopping center, or to other malls. The pilot includes 15 retailers within the mall, as well as thousands of customers. TBWA plans to make more VIP Keys, and to distribute them this spring to Citycenter shoppers, since the original batch of 14,000 VIP Keys has already been distributed.

Sponda is a property-investment company specializing in commercial properties throughout Finland's largest cities. Citycenter is one of its retail locations, with approximately 60 different stores spread throughout about five levels. The center is located in downtown Helsinki, in the Makkaratalo building near the train station—a very busy location. Typically, 200,000 shoppers pass through its doors every week.

"We're always interested in cool ideas to help our tenants and their customers," says Henrik Stadigh, Sponda's director of shopping centers. The company began working with TBWA/Helsinki, which already provided solutions for Sponda regarding marketing design. TBWA looked at beacon solutions but found shortcomings with that technology, according to Theodor Arhio, \Pilot's head of creative services.

"The iBeacon is a good idea on paper," Arhio says, but can be intrusive. "It sends you messages to your personal space—your phone," he says, "and we wanted to provide a disruption to that. We're excluding the phone." If a merchant uses beacons to transmit data to phones, that content can become a source of spam for customers. However, he adds, Sponda and TBWA decided that they could use RFID to collect data about a consumer's behavior without knowing that individual's identity, and could also provide personalized content without requiring the shopper to look at his or her phone.


Pavithra Babu 2016-02-22 01:05:57 AM
Very interesting application of RFID technology. Both RFID and iBeacon provide powerful proximity solutions. Important considerations like cost, range, accuracy among others need to be kept in mind before deploying a proximity solution. Here is an interesting comparison of both iBeacon and RFID technologies - http://blog.beaconstac.com/2015/10/rfid-vs-ibeacon-ble-technology/

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