Heidi.com’s New Store Uses NFC RFID to Enable Omni-Channel Shopping

By Claire Swedberg

The Swiss clothing company has installed virtual shopping kiosks so that customers can shop not only for garments at its flagship store, but also for those available via its website, as well as receive personalized services and promotions.

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Swiss online fashion company Heidi.com intends to challenge the traditional model of a brick-and-mortar store that sells only goods in stock on its sales floor or within its back room. At Heidi’s newly opened store location in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, customers can purchase not only merchandise physically located at the store, but also products available via Heidi’s website. To make this possible, the retailer is issuing Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID ID loyalty cards to customers, and has installed RFID readers built into two large digital touch-screen kiosks known as “totems.” A team of companies have provided the solution to Heidi, including Samsung Semiconductor (for the NFC tags), Inox Communication (for the software interface between the tag read and Heidi’s back-end server) and Zaha Hadid Architects (for the totems themselves), with an RFID reader made using an AMS reader chip.

Since the store’s opening in mid-December 2013, the firm reports that customers have been using their NFC loyalty cards at the totems to receive personalized service. By mid-June of this year, the company expects that the solution will have expanded to include an application enabling shoppers to utilize their own NFC-enabled phones to access store data specific to their needs, as well as an app for staff members to use on a tablet to learn who has entered the store at any given time.

At Heidi’s new store, customers can log in at a totem (a digital touch-screen kiosk) with a built-in NFC reader, in order to view garments, purchase merchandise and receive promotions.

“Retailers are facing a regular headache, and that is the square footage of their stores,” says Thomas Arenz, Samsung Semiconductor’s associate director and head of marketing communications for Europe. While large retailers may have the space necessary to showcase their entire collection, he explains, smaller retailers typically do not. What’s more, a retailer’s line of merchandise changes often and quickly, so moving that inventory through the store in large volumes, and frequently, can be unfeasible. Since Heidi already offers its goods online, the company opted to open a store combining the physical benefits of enabling customers to put their hands on garments, as well as try them on, with the large volume of inventory available online. “The totem is essentially adding an endless shelf element into their store,” Arenz states.

Heidi’s new store, located in what was formerly a firehouse, measures several hundred square meters in size. The two totems’ large touch screens display a changing lineup of products, enabling customers to interact with what they see by touching the screen and selecting specific items that they wish to learn more about. By presenting an NFC card with an ID linked to her specific user account, a shopper can view garments similar to the kinds of items she has previously purchased or viewed, and also select an item to find out if it is available in the store—and, if so, place an order. Alternatively, she can use a virtual keyboard displayed on the totem to access her own user account if she lacks an NFC card.

With the NFC technology in place, the system works in this way: Shoppers can obtain an NFC-enabled loyalty card with a built-in Samsung Semiconductor S3CT9KA chip (compliant with the ISO 14333 RFID standard), either by requesting one at the store or by ordering one online. Samsung will also soon offer an NFC-enabled wristband, Arenz report, available as an alternative to the card. Upon receiving the card, a shopper can launch her profile and set up a user account by going online and entering the ID number printed on the card, which is linked to the unique ID number encoded on the tag. She can then enter varying amounts of information as she chooses, including her own identity and any products of interest.

The store includes two virtual-shopping totems—one at the entrance and another inside the building.

When first arriving at the store, a customer can tap her Heidi card against the totem’s RFID reader, which uses a wired connection to transmit data back to Heidi’s server, where the card’s ID number or card is linked to that customer’s personal profile. The screen displays her name and welcomes her to the store. The shopper can then view promotions or special offers specific to her shopping preferences, as well as select an option to save coupons for redemption on her own user account on Heidi’s server.

Within the store, the customer can browse through the garments physically located onsite, and then proceed to the totem and tap her card against the totem’s reader in order to begin searching for other goods at Heidi.com. If the shopper sees something she wants, she can select that product and check its availability. If it is located in the store, she will then be directed to its location. If not, she can request that it be shipped to her home, or be delivered to the store for future pickup. In either case, she will receive a text message or e-mail containing a link to Heidi.com, where she can complete the transaction by approving a credit-card payment.

Samsung Semiconductor’s Tom Arenz

By March, the system is expected to have expanded to include two apps provided by Red Ant. For customers, the MyHeidi app—which will be available at GooglePlay—can be downloaded via any Android-based NFC-enabled phone. The user can then input her identity and shopping interests, and use her phone in the same way that the ID card is being utilized. The second app, for use only by Heidi’s employees, will be loaded onto the tablets carried by personnel, and will display an alert indicating the name of each individual entering the store, along with her shopping level (for example, a frequent spender) and preferences.

Heidi also intends to install a third totem in its storefront window, for use by customers outside regular business hours. Those carrying Heidi loyalty cards, or NFC phones loaded with the MyHeidi app, can tap the card or phone against the totem built into the window in order to view products, place orders or receive coupons.

To date, Arenz says, the early version of the technology has been popular with shoppers. Within the next month, he adds, the store expects to have distributed several thousand NFC-enabled loyalty cards to customers for use during future visits. For the sake of simplicity, however, he expects most will probably opt to use their NFC phones rather than ID cards. A Heidi spokesperson did not comment about the technology for this story, but Andreas Doering, Heidi’s CEO and co-founder, said—in a video posted on YouTube about the store opening—”We can collect data and information from our customers [whom] we never meet, they can come here and they will be recognized, and we will welcome them from the screen.” In the video, Doering noted that Heidi, depending on the flagship store’s success, hopes to open other locations throughout Europe that will feature totems incorporating NFC RFID technology.