At the Congress with NFC

POSTED BY Windsor Holden
I think that I’ve recovered from the Congress. The shins have stopped hurting and the blisters have healed, at any rate, which is good news. My back still spasms, although as it was doing that for some time before Barcelona I can’t really blame it on lugging the laptop and rucksack around the venue for three days. It is also fair to say that I was not alone in my ailments: sore shins and blisters were trending that week, as attendees realised to their chagrin that they had to walk even further this year. But once we’d finished grumbling to one another about our various Congress-induced aches and pains, there was a fair amount of other (non-ailment) related discussion in the numerous seminars and debates, not least surrounding NFC. Certainly, there was a sense of buoyancy amongst those seeking to promote the technology, not least because of the scale of POS activity: Sandra Alzetta from Visa Europe revealed that by the end of 2013, there would be 700,000 NFC POS terminals across Europe, while Ercan Kilic from GS1 claimed that by 2015, more than 50% of retailers would have rolled out NFC–enabled terminals in Germany. Furthermore, NFC applications are gathering steam in applications beyond retail payments, most notably within the ticketing space: one seminar was devoted exclusively to the opportunities and hurdles around NFC usage for transportation services. This interest and commitment among stakeholders is absolutely essential if NFC is to have the opportunity of fulfilling their expectations, not least because – for all that the number of NFC smartphones is rising fast, and the number of NFC POS terminals is on the up – this growth is by no means matched by public awareness of the technology, let alone confidence in it. There is an educative journey here. The consumer not only needs to have an NFC-enabled handset, but he or she must know that they have one. (And as last year’s Yougov survey on contactless cards show, there can be a tremendous disparity between possession and awareness.) Assuming that they are aware that they have an NFC-enabled handset, they then need to know how to make a payment. They must then want to make a payment. They must then be in a store with an NFC-enabled terminal. Only then can they avoid the queues in McDonald’s and buy their burger via NFC. Awareness of NFC is increasing, but it is and will be a gradual process: evolution rather than revolution (to the gentleman at the Congress who rather boldly proclaimed that “we’re already heading down the path of a cashless society”, I would recommend a trip to Ford Market on a Sunday morning to see quite how quickly, or not, we’re heading down that path; I would strongly suggest he goes equipped with folding currency rather than cards and a mobile wallet). The challenge for the stakeholders lies in accelerating the educative journey, and ensuring that retailers as well as consumers are educated: it is critical to emphasise that the value proposition goes far beyond merely increasing the throughput of consumers at POS, to enhancing the brand and retailer relationship with the end user by being able (via NFC) to tailor specific product offerings to those consumers.