RFID Helps Target Transform Holiday Shopping Experience

By Mark Roberti

Visitors to the retailer's Wonderland popup store in Manhattan receive RFID tokens that allow them to shop without a cart or basket and, instead, create a digital list of items they want to buy.


Brick-and-mortar retailers have been struggling to find ways to compete with the convenience of online shopping. Target might have found a solution—one that leverages radio frequency identification technology.

Target has created a Target Wonderland pop-up store in New York City’s Meatpacking district. A shopper entering the Wonderland area is given a token (with Target’s red bull’s-eye logo printed on it) containing an embedded passive high-frequency (HF) transponder, based on the ISO 14443 standard. NXP Semiconductors made the RFID chips in the transponders, which were provided by Vanguard ID Systems. Visitors can choose to register their token and associate the transponder’s unique ID number with their social-media pages, though that is not required. No credit card or other personal information is stored on the tokens, which customers are welcome to keep.

Each shopper entering Target’s Wonderland is given a token with an embedded passive HF RFID transponder.

Each of 16 products for sale at the pop-up store has an RFID reader installed next to it, developed by RFID Academia, an RFID solution provider based in Montreal. Each of those items is displayed on a fixture that sports a red Target bull’s-eye positioned above the reader’s antenna. As customers walk through Wonderland, they can tap their tokens to a bull’s-eye to add that product, such as an Etch A Sketch or a Barbie doll, to a digital shopping cart. Wonderland also has a giant Etch A Sketch and interactive features, such as a selfie wall where customers can take a photo with a large display of Disney’s Tsum Tsum stuffed toys. The token can be used to upload the pictures to the shopper’s social-media page, as long as that individual registered the token upon receiving it.

Once a customer has finished shopping, he or she can take the token to a checkout counter, which is fitted with an Apple iPad and an RFID reader from RFID Academia. When the token is tapped near the reader, the iPad displays that person’s digital shopping cart. Shoppers can delete items that they might have decided not to buy (or any that their children may have added without their knowledge) and then pay with a credit card or cash as they normally would.

A visitor can choose to register his or her token and associate the transponder’s unique ID with that individual’s social-media pages.

“We concepted Target Wonderland for several months, with the goal of having it come to life in a fun and engaging way,” says Jenna Reck, a spokesperson for Target. “There were two equally important elements that we considered. We wanted the space to feature beautiful and inspiring visual merchandising, and we wanted to use technology that would make it easy and seamless for our guests to shop.”

The team working on the project was familiar with RFID because Target already employs the technology for inventory management at its other stores. A short-range HF system, the group decided, would work for both the social-media and transactional aspects of Wonderland. Target engaged an agency that specializes in event design, planning and production. That company contacted RFID Academia, which has carried out numerous event- and social-media-oriented RFID deployments (for the past few years, in fact, it has set up the photo kiosks at RFID Journal LIVE!).

The Target Wonderland pop-up store will be open through Dec. 22 (Monday to Saturday from 10 am 8 pm, and Sundays from 10 am to 6 pm). It has received quite a bit of publicity, including a segment on Good Morning America and an article on Fortune’s website.

Each product for sale is displayed on a fixture sporting a red bull’s-eye positioned above the reader’s antenna. Customers can tap their token to a bull’s-eye to add a particular item to their digital shopping cart. (Click here for a larger version.)

According to Reck, Target is testing other concepts in other parts of the United States, such as Target Open House in San Francisco and Target Too in Miami. The goal is to understand how consumers use RFID technology in stores and how to create future retail experiences.

“Target is testing a lot of different concepts across the country and looking at implications for how they could be brought to scale,” Reck explains. “Right now, with Target Wonderland, the goal is to learn how different technologies and concepts can be used to build retail experiences of the future. The reaction so far to Target Wonderland has been great. It’s the balance of a fun experience and the ease of the digital transactions that people are really responding to.”

A shopper can take a photo in front of a selfie wall filled with Disney’s Tsum Tsum stuffed toys, and upload that image to his or her social-media page, as long as that individual registered his or her token upon receiving it. (Click here for a larger version.)