French Retailer to Trial NFC Shopping App with Tags but without Telcos
Groupe Casino, one of France’s largest retail chains, plans to launch an NFC mobile-shopping trial at one of its Paris supermarkets this fall, deploying 25,000 tags on store shelves.
The project, planned for launch in October, will enable participating shoppers to load products into a digital shopping basket on their smartphones by tapping the phones on tags embedded in electronic shelf labels. They would then upload the basket at the checkout counter by resting the phone on an NFC reader.
By tapping the tags, shoppers could also get more information on the products. And using the retailer’s “mCasino” smartphone app, the consumers could set alerts to tell them, for example, if a product contains any ingredients they are allergic to, or if their mobile shopping basket is nearing their preset budget limit. The app also tells shoppers about discounts, which would be taken off the price of the product in the mobile shopping basket, not at the checkout counter.
Casino has developed the app with its main technology supplier on the project, France-based Think&Go NFC for Android and BlackBerry NFC phones and for Apple’s iPhone. The iPhone will be used with an NFC-enabled sleeve, the iCarte.
Casino plans to distribute the NFC phones and the iPhone case to between 50 and 500 loyal customers, as well as some employees, who would use them to shop at a store in Paris' upscale 16th district. It plans to later open up the app to other customers with appropriate NFC phones.
Shunning Mobile Operators
But Casino is not planning to enable trial participants to also pay with their NFC phones after they upload their shopping baskets, even though the chain has rolled out contactless terminals in all of its roughly 400 Casino supermarkets and about 100 Géant hypermarkets in France. The retailer is cool to the idea of working with mobile operators and wants to avoid renting space on telcos’ SIM cards.
“It’s very difficult for us; it’s why we worked on an app that is independent of the system of payment,” Thibault de Pompery, design director in groupe Casino’s innovation department, told NFC Times. “I don’t want to work with the operator. I don’t want to be between the operator and the bank.”
Among other things, Casino doesn’t want to pay any fees to telcos to rent space on their SIM cards for its loyalty or cobranded payment cards, though de Pompery said French operators, such as France Telecom-Orange, have not yet proposed the fee amount to Casino. Orange did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NFC Times.
SIM rental fees are considered a major part of the business case mobile operators plan to pursue for their NFC rollouts.
De Pompery spoke to NFC Times during a press event in Paris Monday announcing Casino’s Paris NFC tag trial and related NFC and mobile shopping pilots.
He said, however, that customers one day might upload their electronic shopping baskets and pay in two taps or even one tap of their NFC phones.
But Casino appears to also be interested in testing cloud-based mobile payment in association with NFC tag applications–allowing consumers to shop at home and both inside and outside of the store with NFC tags, then paying online with their phones.
Later next month, Casino plans to trial mobile shopping in the French city of Lyon with smart posters containing NFC tags, QR codes and single-dimensional bar codes. And also this fall, it will try out a “Digital Wall,” a large screen with an interactive product catalog that consumers can touch to put products in their shopping basket, then pay by taking a picture of a QR code.
Casino already enables customers to scan products–not with QR codes but with the simple linear codes, or 1-D bar codes, that manufacturers print on their product packages. Casino lends customers bar code scanners and the devices upload the shopping basket at an express checkout lane.
‘Less Than a Second’
Casino believes NFC will make it easier for consumers to put products in their electronic shopping baskets than scanning bar codes.
The retailer held an internal trial of the NFC tag-based shopping service at a mini-supermarket at its Paris offices this summer, and it also tried it out last year at the l’Institut de la Vision, a research institute for diseases of the eye.
“What we demonstrated, we can get the product in your basket in less than one second,” de Pompery told NFC Times.
The retailer also believes an NFC-based mobile-shopping service is becoming more practical, with NFC-enabled smartphones finally rolling out in significant numbers.
French operators say they have sold more than 1 million NFC-enabled phones to date and predict they will have distributed 2.5 million NFC phones by the end of 2012. By 2015, more than half of French mobile subscribers will be carrying an NFC-enabled handset, said Casino.
Casino’s bar-code scanning service using the manufacturer’s product labels not only enables consumers to build an electronic shopping basket, but also to receive alerts for discounts. But the mCasino mobile app, using the NFC tags, allows customers to store their preferences, noted Vincent Berge, CEO of Think&Go.
“The big difference, with NFC, it brings more interactivity and more potential to deliver services to customers,” he said.
For example, consumers could tell the mobile app to alert them whenever they tap a tag for a product containing gluten, which they might be allergic to. Or the app could tell users they are approaching their €100 (US$ 128) budget limit.
While a mobile app that uses QR codes instead of NFC tags to get product data, also could store user preferences, Berge contends that tapping NFC tags is much simpler than scanning QR codes.
Tags Store Product ID
With the system Casino is testing, the 25,000 electronic shelf labels from Sweden-based Pricer will be embedded with NFC tags, each encoded with an ID number tied to the individual product, said Berge. The product information and price is kept on the database, where it can be updated. When the tag is tapped, the consumer gets the product information over the network to his phone. He could then click to add the item to his shopping basket.
Berge said that when the user then uploads the shopping basket by resting his phone on the NFC reader, it would use either NFC's card emulation or peer-to-peer modes. But the peer-to-peer function for the Samsung Galaxy S III, one of the top selling NFC phones in France, is not yet accessible for the Casino app.
“We don’t know if it’s blocked on purpose, or it’s just a bug,” Berge said. “It’s not open for developers to have access to peer-to-peer for the GS3.”
He doesn’t think French operators are to blame for that. It might be problem related to the NFC implementation of Android.
The communication between the BlackBerry phones planned for the trial, which will include the Bold 9900 and Bold 9790, would use card-emulation mode, he said. This mode is usually associated with secure elements.
But Berge said the mCasino shopping service does not store anything on the secure chips in NFC phones, which in NFC-enabled BlackBerrys could either be the SIM card or an embedded chip. Both are controlled by mobile operators.
“We don’t believe in the secure element; there is every time carriers who wants a fee,” he said. “And the ecosystem can’t work like that. It may work for payment. You need a secure element for payment. You don’t need a secure element (for shopping).”