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Concept Store Delivers Product Content via NFC, RFID

McKinsey and Mall of America have teamed up to offer a store where shoppers can explore content about products using hot spots, touch screens and magic mirrors, along with UHF RFID-based inventory management.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 30, 2019

Mall of America's shoppers are browsing through products at a new high-tech concept store known as the Modern Retail Collective, which serves as a bridge between digital and physical shopping. The concept store, provided by management consulting company McKinsey, and Mall of America, enables a series of retailers to promote and sell their products for limited times. With touch screens, a magic mirror and mobile "hot spots," the store also serves as a laboratory for new technologies.

Near Field Communication (NFC) tags provide a link between digital shopping and the physical store, by delivering content to shoppers on site as they browse through goods. The NFC RFID tags serve as the store's hot spots, where customers can tap tags to learn more about a product, thereby making the shopping experience more interactive. The system leverages Smartrac NFC 13.56 MHz tags compliant with the ISO 14443 standard.

For shoppers, the new store is offering the best of both the digital and physical retail worlds, says Gerry Hough, McKinsey's senior expert for store innovation: "in-person product discovery, digital 'endless aisles,' on-demand service and tactile experiences within a highly social environment." The premise, she explains, is to strike the right balance between product, technology and human interaction, as well as to measure the impact for brands even beyond the store. It features a handful of brands that will be "refreshed" periodically, along with technologies to facilitate new use cases.

Gerry Hough
During the past few years, Hough says, McKinsey's clients have been seeking ways in which to incorporate the latest technologies into their stores, in order to create the most positive impact. However, she adds, the technology landscape continues to fragment, and many pilot programs can be too costly or difficult to fully integrate and measure. To solve this business problem, McKinsey built the concept store, which serves as a physical environment in which product brands can showcase and test new technologies, as well as learn what resonates with their customers, before implementing at scale in permanent locations. Hough thinks of the site as a learning lab. McKinsey has an 18-month lease for the space, but the company envisions extending the concept if the retailers gain significant value from the experience.

The first installment of the concept store allows Mall of America's shoppers to interact with and purchase products from Elevé Cosmetics, Kendra Scott, ThirdLove and type:A Deodorant. This first installment of the store is focused on products for women, from brands founded by women. That theme, Hough says, is something of which the company is quite proud. "We're also excited to bring some digitally native brands to physical stores," she states, "so that customers can interact with them in a new way."

In addition to NFC-enabled hot spots, the store features digital screens throughout the sales floor on which content can be viewed, while magic mirrors allow shoppers to view the products they try on with other accessories. With the use of hot spots, the store is designed to enable patrons to browse through content about specific products. McKinsey applied NFC-enabled labels throughout the store to uniquely identify each product. The goal was to allow shoppers to access the types of data on their smartphones that they could typically find online, and without the need for an app.

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