Does NFC technology live up to its promise?

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NFC Technology at Retail Image
NFC Technology at Retail Image

Near Field Communication (NFC) is the latest in technology for enabling commerce at retail through your cell phone. However, with the dependance on a human interaction at the register, is it a technology that currently saves time or provides the convenience it promises? Also, how robotic are we getting with our in-store customer service, and don’t we still need a human to monitor the transaction anyway?

HE: SEAN BOICE: TECHNOLOGY ARCHITECT

What is NFC?

NFC holds a lot of promise in the hearts and minds of the Geek Elite. If you haven’t heard of NFC, maybe you’ve heard of and even used its predecessor, RFID. If you’ve used a Mobil Speedpass to pay for gas or suffered the always embarrassing blaring security sensors on your way of out a store, then you’re familiar with RFID. Both RFID and NFC allow for a powerless, tiny transmitter to communicate with the merchant for commerce purposes, and NFC chips are currently embedded in the latest and greatest smartphones running Android and are expected to be included in future iPhones, although their omission from the last release has fueled speculation about the technology.

NFC Applications

Google has already developed the most obvious and well-supported use of NFC, the Google Wallet. Google Wallet allows you to link your credit card to your cell phone and complete transactions with your cell phone. It’s expected that soon consumers will be able to utilize NFC for check-ins (foursquare), highway tolls, parking meters, and much more.

Merchant participation and consumer adoption are always the metric of success with these technologies, so, merchants and vendors are forced into a chicken-or-egg puzzle. Fortunately, supporters of NFC are the biggest and boldest industry players in the world, including partnerships with MasterCard, making the adoption rates grow and making the technology very viable.

SHE: REBECCA GARNICK, VICE PRESIDENT

NFC in practice

I agree with you, Sean, that the technology behind NFC and its predecessors is viable. Especially as someone who spent time in a grocery line this weekend waiting as the customer in front of me painstakingly wrote a check. And certainly there are retailer benefits, like lower transaction fees.

However, I worry about its implications in basic human contact and transactions. The NFC technology depends on a human interaction, and as anyone who has tried using SquareUp to pay for a cup of coffee can attest, the hassle may not be worth the time. The merchants who sign on for these programs often forget that they have high retail sales associate turnover — training is secondary — and therefore the benefits of the technology are lost in translation.

Even if the technology works seamlessly in action, I also worry about what this does to make us all feel like a number. Will NFC allow for my Chai Tea Latte to be ordered when I enter my favorite coffee shop, and will it know I like non-fat milk? And do I want that? Or will NFC simply be a payment tool that depends on us consumers thinking it is a huge hassle to pull out our wallets even though we must still carry them for ID purposes?

Until the technology can be applied quickly and can prove beneficial to the user, I wonder about consumer adoption rates, even if merchants are on board. And does this technology reduce staff needed at retail or cut costs for merchants in any way? If not, what is the true benefit?

What do you think?

Have you used a mobile payment tool and, if so, was it a positive experience?

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