NFC: It’s Not Just a Football Conference

One of my favorite iPhone applications is CardStar.  CardStar allows me to enter all my “loyalty” cards from places like Kroger, Dick’s Sporting Goods, CVS and Best Buy onto my smartphone.  I enter the card number and the CardStar app generates a barcode that a retailer can scan the same way it would scan my loyalty card. I still get discounts and accumulate points, and I get the added bonus of a noticeably slimmer wallet, which makes sitting a significantly more comfortable endeavor. But there are still a significant number of cards in my wallet. Thankfully, there will soon be a way to further decrease the load.

This is where Near Field Communication (NFC) comes in.  NFC is a set of short-range wireless technologies that allows devices within a few inches of each other to communicate. NFC means your phone can be your wallet.  Imagine CardStar, except with all your cards loaded onto your phone (not just your loyalty cards).  Walk into a store, select your items, and as the cashier rings them up,  you open your app, select a card, and wave the barcode over the card reader.  When the transaction is approved, you sign and you’re done.

Though the process sounds a lot like the payWave stuff you can get on some individual credit and debit cards, payWave hasn’t really caught on.  I think the reason it hasn’t is because consumers don’t really gain anything from the process.  Waving a card in front of a reader isn’t that different from swiping a card through a machine. And you still need to carry the card. Until something comes along that offers significant improvements or incentives to doing so, no one will change his or her behavior. I believe NFC, by simplifying the contents of your wallet and increasing the security of credit/debit card transactions, does offer that incentive.

While in an Ann Taylor store recently, the subject of NFC came up.  My girlfriend didn’t have her store card with her so the cashier looked it up. I remarked that in a year or two she wouldn’t have to worry about carrying the card around and mentioned NFC.  The cashier expressed concern that if her phone were stolen, all her credit card information would be stolen along with it. So I responded by asking her, “What happens if your wallet gets stolen?”  All of your credit cards are gone along with the wallet, and you don’t have the option of signing onto the nearest computer and wiping the information from your stolen wallet or of having GPS track it. Unfortunately, things are going to be stolen. Given a choice, I’d rather have my sensitive info on a device that I can wipe and track.

Imagine the other possibilities NFC presents:

  • You could store your entire medical history on your device. If you’re ever in an accident, medical personnel can scan your phone with an NFC reader and access it.
  • When your landlord comes to your door to collect the rent, just tap your phone against his phone and it’s done.
  • Sick of carrying around a key card to get into residence halls or computer labs?  Just wave your phone next to the pad.

Will the wallet become an archaic item held onto solely for sentimental value? While Isis, the mobile commerce joint venture formed in November 2010 between the U.S. wireless carriers, AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile and Verizon, is making strides with its announcement of a mobile payment pilot program in Salt Lake City in 2012, it will take time for NFC to be available everywhere and to have it work with every card out there. While my wallet is slimmer than it used to be thanks to an app like CardStar, it’ll be a while before I can retire it.

Has your business looked to do a non-traditional loyalty card program?
Have you seen creative business applications of phone-based personal data?
David Egger IRU Mobility Programs Lead Marketing Manager AT&T About David