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I presented at a great conference two weeks ago focused on mobile solutions for retail called RAMP . It was very well attended, particularly by merchants. Lots of discussion about NFC and mobile payments particularly – along with NFC couponing, offers, loyalty and rewards.

But there was also a lot of… whining. Despite investment and evangelizing from Google and ISIS, many merchants were whining. Someone needs to prove NFC works. I don’t want to be a first mover. I don’t understand why consumers want NFC, etc., etc.
Yes, there are no NFC phones yet. But there will be a lot of them coming to the U.S. in 2012 and it will become a tsunami of phones after that. No less than 50 different models are in testing or production as of this writing. That means that a great deal of Americans will have NFC phones in their hands over the next few years.
That’s exciting, but perhaps what is more so for merchants are some innovative thinking by NFC solutions providers who are focused on enhancing in-store experiences – using NFC technology to enable line busting, cutting edge customer service and content discovery.
I think Narian Technologies is a company merchants will quickly turn to because they have thought through and can deliver solutions that will improve bottom line. According to Narian CEO Einar Rosenberg, merchants should pay more attention to sales that are lost when shoppers are in stores than incremental sales brought through coupons and promotions. He says merchants typically see 2% increase in incremental sales from upsell promotions and coupons. However, physical merchants lose a whopping 50% of incremental sales by failing to close opportunities in store. For example, their “Line Pager” solution sends an alert to a customer’s phone when it is their turn to order, a capability well suited for the grocery deli counter. The “Service Pager” is designed for use in restaurants to allow diners to place orders, ask for the check or top up beverages. The “Communicator” solution enables consumers visiting a chain store to speak with a topical expert in another store if all the clerks in the location they are in are tied up. The Narian solutions make use of NFC tags and currently require the consumer to have an Android phone and appropriate downloaded mobile app.
Another company to watch is Xius , which is selling passive and active NFC Smart posters that will power remote ordering food & beverage systems for drive throughs and hospitals. Imagine being able to touch your smartphone to access the drive through menu and ordering system – no need to yell and be yelled at incoherently by fuzzy speakers anymore. Or find and purchase a vast array of prepaid recharge – for phones, debit cards, online games, and gift cards -- at a tiny kiosk in a convenience store. This type of solution saves physical retailers valuable space and increases yield.
Last, there is Vivotech , which envisions a personalized in-store, NFC-powered shopping experience. In Vivotech’s view, a customer enters the store, taps a touch point, reader or smart poster etc. The merchant now knows you are there, and can make offers. As the customer goes down aisles, they can tap on shelf tags to get product information, price checks, etc. The merchant could also make offers at that point, based on the customers actions. This interaction also represents an opportunity for financial institutions and other players. Then customer goes to the checkout, taps their phone once at the POS to calculate coupon redemption, loyalty reward points and payment.
These are technology solutions that make consumers retail experiences more convenient and more personalized. Consumers want that. Watch for innovative first-mover retailers to jump on these solutions and incorporate them with NFC mobile payments, and get a leg up on their competition.