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NXP Semiconductors

Always up to date with NFC Electronic Shelf Labels

Articles | By NXP Semiconductors | 15 December 2017
When combined with NFC short range wireless connectivity, ESLs can be updated immediately by the retailer and enable further customer interactions. When combined with NFC short range wireless connectivity, ESLs can be updated immediately by the retailer and enable further customer interactions. Photo: NXP Semiconductors

NFC in Electronic Shelf Labels enables energy-efficient shelf management at low cost

With NFC-enabled Electronic Shelf Labels (ESL), wrong price indication, non-transparent processes, and unsatisfactory customer interactions are a thing of the past. In retail, the NFC technology significantly adds up to standard ESLs which display the price and facilitate the stock management, by enabling price updates at any time, simplified customer interactions, reassignments, firmware updates, and much more via a simple tap on an NFC-enabled smartphone. Fabrice Punch, Marketing Manager, NXP Semiconductors France, spoke with RFID & Wireless IoT Global about the benefits and potentials of the energy-efficient and versatile, shelf management solution.

Fabrice Punch, Senior Marketing Manager, NXP Semiconductors France, in an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global

ESLs manage replenishment, price updates, and check-outs

In fashion and food retail, ESLs are an effective tool to improve the check-out and replenishment of shelved products. With ESL, the retailer can provide the optimum amount of products on the sales floor at any time, avoiding out-of-stock situations. ESLs are combined with a wireless technology such as WiFi, Zigbee, or proprietary RF, and communicate remotely with the shop servers.

On the ESL display – which is available in different sizes, in black and white, and in colour – different types of information can be displayed, such as stock level information for the retailer and price automatically updated. However, updates are usually only carried out once or twice a day in order to enable a battery life of between one to two years.

When combined with NFC short range wireless connectivity, ESL can be updated immediately by the retailer, and further enhance customer interactions become possible near the shelves and at cash-out, stimulating customer engagement while generating financial and energy consumption benefits for the retailer at the same time.

Optimised firmware updates and reassignments via NFC

Using NFC, retailers can update the contents of the ESL device – such as price or information regarding special promotions – immediately, more than twice a day and without the need for an additional power source. Employees simply update the relevant content via a simple tap on their NFC-enabled smartphones. They can synchronise the prices between the cash register and the shelf to avoid delays or dissatisfied customers. The ESL can be reassigned to another product via NFC which enhances flexibility. ESL firmware updates can be carried out via NFC-enabled smartphones as well, saving time and reducing overall costs for the retailer.

Customers can access product details with a simple tap on their smartphone

In terms of customer interaction, the technology solution is easy to use as the majority of smartphones are NFC-enabled today. When entering the store, customers can download a store app that offers various information on products, using the store‘s WiFi network.

“For customers, NFC is the easiest way to access information. When they approach the shelf, they simply need to tap the NFC tag in the ESL device with their smartphone to access product information. Information may include the up-todate product price, details regarding the product composition or the original manufacturing, as well as promotions for special offers and price reductions,” Fabrice Punch, Senior Marketing Manager, NXP Semiconductors France, explains.

Temperature monitoring and automated payment

NFC in ESL could also enable comprehensive use cases regarding temperature monitoring in the store or automated cash registers for payment.

“In the near future, NFC in ESL will enable customers to check the latest temperature history of any product via their smartphones. For this use case, the ESL inside the fridge integrates a temperature sensor, that communicates with the customer via NFC. Test pilots for automated cash registers at the supermarket are already taking place. Here, customers independently tap products they want to purchase with their smartphones.

The automated cash register then identifies the contents of the virtual shopping cart on the customer‘s smartphone, enabling automated payment. The application possibilities for NFC in ESL are virtually endless,” the marketing manager states.

Connected NFC tag for complex tasks

For applications in fashion and food retail, NXP provides electronic components inside an ESL device such as the NFC ICs, microcontrollers, sensors, or transceivers for Zigbee applications. For NFC in ESL, NXP offers two types of NFC portfolios: simple NFC tags and connected NFC tags. The simple tag interfaces with the smartphone and can carry out simple tasks such as product information sharing. The connected NFC tag has an additional I2C interface connected to the host system’s microcontroller, that enables reassignments, firmware updates, and the modification of the content of the ESL, like the price displayed.

NFC enables energy-efficient communication For the senior marketing manager, NFC is the most convenient technology for updating shelf content and price anytime, and offering enhanced customer interactions. Communication between ESL and a smartphone would also be possible via BLE, for example. However, BLE requires a power source, making it unsuitable for ESL, Fabrice Punch explains:

“Although BLE uses only a small amount of energy, it would still lead to high battery costs as the battery is supposed to last for one or two years. NFC tags do not require any additional power source during communication, as it completely relies on energy field harvesting from the smartphone when activated with a tap. Moreover, more and more smartphones are NFC-enabled, opening up numerous new application areas for NFC, including ESL. Here, the implementation of NFC leads to significant energy savings and lower costs for the retailer.”

50 to 100 million NFC-enabled ESL by 2022

Fabrice Punch is convinced that NFC-enabled ESL will be a trending topic for fashion and food retail in the upcoming months – not only in Europe, but also worldwide:

“Early pioneer ESL customers have rolled out pilots all over Europe, especially in France and Germany. However, the United States and Japan are up-and-coming markets as well. The pilot projects use NFC for ESL in their stores, including NXP‘s connected NFC tag and I2C interfaces. We should see comprehensive roll-outs with marketready labels in large volumes by 2018. On average, one supermarket needs up to 100,000 ESL to fully benefit from the solution. According to market analyses, 50 to 100 million NFC-enabled ESL – which makes up 20 percent of the entire NFC market – will be implemented by 2022. Moreover, people will pay more and more with their NFC-enabled smartphones, turning customer interaction via NFC for ESL into everyday business.”

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of RFID & Wireless IoT Global. Download your personal digital copy of the magazine now and gain exclusive insight into more use cases and the potential of RFID & Wireless IoT technologies for process optimisation in different industries.

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Last modified on Thursday, 21 December 2017 12:40