Shopping in large stores may these be super markets, utility stores, toy stores etc. is an experience with many similarities across the areas. People when entering such a store select a trolley or some kind of basket to collect their products to buy. They browse through large aisles tagged with large signs categorizing products under specific categories. While browsing them, they may use a shopping list or just grab whatever attracts their attention or whatever they need and drop it to the trolley or basket and continue. In other cases they might stand in front of shelves with similar products from different brands and compare prices, product characteristics displayed in labels in order to decide whether to buy or not each product. In some cases they might also grab a product, examine its package, physical properties, information on the package etc. in order to decide buying it or not. Finally they usually exit the shop after paying in cash or using credit cards in a cashier.
The picture described was a usual and familiar in the past and may still be like this in many cases. However, there are already signs and evidence of that process changing though the introduction of new technologies and ICT. ShelfX is a company based in US providing customers with solutions on inventory management. Their products included systems such as ShelfX Smart Shelves, the ShelfX Software and Server platform, the ShelfX Cards and Kiosks and the ShelfX App that combine to form a self-checkout solution for retailers worldwide. Their latest product, ShelfX Smart Shelves is using NFC and RFID technologies in order to provide customers with information about products while they are browsing a large grocery stores, big box store, super market etc. When approaching a shelf the customer equipped with an NFC enabled phone or a specific loyalty card, the shelf and its products can greet him in person and provide with all available information for the customer. By lifting up the product, the amount can be automatically added on the checkout and the store’s inventory can be updated appropriately. Similar inventory management solutions provided by other companies such Imagine Retail or Analytica are mainly focused on inventory control and facilitating the retailer. However, as more NFC and RFID sensors will be included in mobile phones such businesses will start to think about the customer too.
In France, a Supermarket called “Groupe Casino” has already started testing a NFC based system that allows customers with visual impairments and elderly to scan and read in larger fonts product details through their phone. As RFID journal describes in their article the systems tested is just a start for series of applications that can be introduced later. As pointed out in the article, Thibault de Pompery, the creative director of Groupe Casino’s innovation department says that “What’s interesting is that everything can be done on a single device”. This means that such solutions could potentially help a lot more customers, including visually disabled that can now learn more about a particular product and make purchases. According to Tim Baker, Think&Go’s NFC marketing director:
“The technology may provide other options as well, such as enabling a company like Casino to set up a store containing very little product, with shelves stocked simply with empty packaging fitted with RFID labels. At such sites, shoppers could select the items they would like to purchase and then have them delivered, or can pick them up at a separate drive-through location. Such solutions might be popular for customers without cars, he notes, or those living in city centres, far from the supermarkets more typically located in suburbs”
In the future NFC enabled mobile phones could also carry profile information about their owner or download it from cloud. Combine that with tagging products with accessibility related information such as if it is appropriate or operable by persons with specific disabilities, which kinds of disabilities might it provide assistance to, etc. and you could get a much richer, easier and enjoyable shelf browsing experience for persons with disabilities. What is needed to achieve such a state is the development of appropriate profiling schemas to describe the capabilities of a person and the appropriate schemas to describe products accessibility compliance information. That may sound easy but in order to be successful it has to be implemented in a wide range. We cannot expect competitors in the area to come up with the same idea when providing profiling schemas for such a vague and complex matter. There will definitely be a bunch of different solutions that might lead to nuisance for users such as having to use a specific mobile app for each store which would have to keep your profile information but in a different format. In the end of the day end-users might be confronted with such a redundancy of apps and profiling information in their mobiles that they will stop using them all.