Shelfbucks’ Bluetooth-NFC Beacons Bring Discounts to Tarrytown Pharmacy’s Shoppers

By Claire Swedberg

The solution combines BLE and active NFC RFID technologies in a single tag, ensuring that both Android and Apple phones can access coupons and promotional materials.

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Tarrytown Pharmacy, located in Austin, Texas, has deployed a series of hybrid beacons combining Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID technologies to enable its customers to access coupons and promotional information regarding products via a simple tap of their mobile phones. The solution, provided by Austin technology startup Shelfbucks, consists of the beacons—with built-in battery-powered NFC transponders that make it possible to communicate with any smartphone featuring either NFC or BLE compatibility—as well as a Shelfbucks application downloaded to manage the collected data. By employing active RFID technology, Shelfbucks can extend the tag’s read range to as much as 6 inches, versus a passive NFC tag, which typically offers a range of only a few centimeters. Tarrytown Pharmacy is currently evaluating the technology, which it installed last week.

Shelfbucks’ Michael Scheschuk

The pharmacy has been in operation for 72 years, owned by three generations of a single family, and has served as many as six generations of local customers, according to Mark Newberry, the store’s current owner. “We have a very broad range of customers,” he says, spanning all ages and a variety of technical know-how levels. The company implements new innovation, when possible, that might benefit customers and boost sales, and it also sought a system that would be intuitive for those not interested in spending a great deal of time learning about the technology. In addition, Newberry was concerned about consumer privacy, and says his goal was to provide a way for his company to engage customers without sending them “spam” e-mails.

Shelfbucks’ solution enables customers to only receive the data they specifically want, by requiring that a phone be within 3 to 6 inches of a beacon before information can be transmitted to that phone. The Shelfbucks solution was specifically designed for such a short read range, in order to ensure that individuals do not receive a multitude of messages on their phones while walking around a store. The digital shopping technology firm opted to incorporate both BLE and NFC technology into its solution “to support the widest variety of phones,” says Michael Scheschuk, Shelfbucks’ products VP and COO, and subsequently reach the broadest variety of customers. Most new Android phones come with NFC readers, while Apple phones, which do not, offer BLE (iBeacon) functionality. Some Android models are also being marketed with BLE technology.

A user must first download a Shelfbucks app from iTunes or Google Play. This can be done at Tarrytown Pharmacy, by simply tapping a beacon and then following prompts on the phone. From that time forward, the user will need to have the app open in order for it to work. Once a customer has the app open, he or she can simply tap the phone against the beacons for any product lines of interest.

The pharmacy installed 20 Shelfbucks beacons on the shelves where goods are displayed, each corresponding to a specific type of product.

Last week, the 7,200-square-foot pharmacy installed 20 Shelfbucks beacons on the shelves where goods are displayed, each corresponding to the specific type of product (such as shampoo, cold and fever medication or vitamins) found on the shelf on which it is installed. An individual can tap his or her phone against the beacon, and if the handset supports NFC technology, the beacon’s NFC transponder will transmit its unique identifier to prompt the phone to access the server and obtain data corresponding to that location. If BLE technology is being used—in the case of an iPhone or some Android models—the process is the same, though the unique identifier is received via Bluetooth. The phone then displays product and promotional information pertaining to related items on that shelf. For example, if the individual taps a Shelfbucks beacon located in the store’s cold and flu products section, he or she can also receive information about facial tissues currently available on sale.

Tarrytown Pharmacy’s Mark Newberry

The Shelfbucks server software collects data regarding which beacons are being tapped, when this occurs and how often, and that information is shared with Tarrytown Pharmacy to help it better manage its in-store product displays. No personal data about an individual is ever collected, Scheschuk notes, so as to protect consumer privacy.

Although the system has only been in place for about a week, Newberry reports that initial customer response seems to be favorable. “I think, for me, there are two points of value,” he states. “We’re able to bring something novel to the customer, and we hope to drive sales with this as well.”

Shelfbucks manufactures its own beacons, including the NFC chip and antenna installed in the devices. According to Scheschuk, Shelfbucks is presently in discussions with several large retailers interested in integrating the solution into their existing loyalty programs. In that case, he says, customers would access data via the beacons, in conjunction with an app provided by the retailer that receives data from the Shelfbucks solution.

A customer can tap his phone against a beacon to learn more about a particular product.