Let’s say it’s the end of a work day and you’re on your
way home, but there’s nothing in the fridge for dinner. Or
you’re out with friends on a weekend afternoon and you could use a
snack. Or maybe it’s a school night and your kid has a cough, but
you’re out of medicine. You know what you want and you don’t
want to wait. Seeing people wait to pay a cashier or scan items at a
self-checkout station can be enough to make you go elsewhere or forego the
Seamless, Friction-free Shopping
that making you wait to pay can be bad for business so they’re finding
ways to eliminate manned checkout stations. The goal is to create a seamless,
friction-free shopping experience, so consumers who are short on time get what
they need without having to wait.
This new approach, which goes by several names, including autonomous retail,
cashierless stores and unmanned retail, can also lower costs and expand market
reach. Unmanned stores still need employees to service them—someone
needs to restock, clean and maintain the shop—but not having cashiers
means operating costs are lower and the store can use a smaller footprint.
Experience It for Yourself
This past January at the
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, NXP demonstrated the Smart Market, an
RFID-driven solution for autonomous shopping experiences. The demo let people
experience the convenience of “grab and go” shopping and created
some serious buzz on the topic.
The next opportunity to experience NXP’s approach to autonomous retail
is at RFID Journal Live!, taking place April 2 to 4 at the Phoenix Convention
Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NXP is a platinum sponsor of the event, which is
the largest tradeshow dedicated to RFID and will have staff on hand to
highlight the RAIN RFID and NFC solutions that enable cashierless shopping.
The Benefits Are Clear
There are several reasons why
retailers are so interested in autonomous shopping. To begin, unmanned stores
can create a competitive advantage in places that typically pose a challenge
to brick-and-mortar retail. That is, in areas where stores might struggle,
because building permits are hard to obtain, rents are high, the labor market
is tight, profit margins are low or the customer base is small, unmanned
stores can deliver a significant competitive advantage.
Stores without cashiers can also take retailers to new places, providing
24-hour access to food and daily necessities in what are often underserved
markets, including corporate offices, densely populated urban neighborhoods
and even remote and rural areas.
What’s more, because unmanned stores use digitalization and are linked
to the cloud, they can provide product-related content anytime upon consumer
demand while also generating data about consumer preferences and buying
habits. That in turn, can give sellers the insights they need to improve user
experiences, tailor sales to individual preferences and foster loyalty.
A small but growing number of
companies now operate unmanned stores in various regions, especially in Asia
but also in Europe and the U.S. and many more investors and retailers have
announced their intentions to adopt the trend.
The details vary but the general idea is this: you download a mobile app and
register as a shopper. Then when you’re at the store, you use the app
again to initiate a buying session. You select your items, authorize a payment
and go. Some cashierless stores have you scan a QR code to unlock the store
entrance or begin selecting items. Others have you tap your phone to a NFC tag
or reader. You might be asked to scan each item with your phone as you select
it and then authorize a mobile payment, or there might be a meter-long scanner
that scans your items as you pass by and then asks for payment authorization
before you exit the store.
Some stores use sensors and cameras to track your selections and then run
facial recognition algorithms to identify and authorize payment from your
account. Some use biometrics, such as fingerprints or palmprints, to authorize
entry and payment. Some use artificial intelligence to welcome and interact
with customers and some offer video chats that let consumers talk to a remote
employee if they need to resolve a payment issue. Some can service many people
at once, others are designed for one-at-a-time use.
Wireless Is Key
Of the several technologies used to
create unmanned stores, two are wireless standards that are already part of
the retail world: RAIN RFID and NFC.
Retailers already use RAIN RFID to increase efficiency in the supply chain,
with connected tags that make individual items a part of the IoT. They use NFC
to create interactive consumer experiences before, during and after the sale.
For example, RAIN RFID and NFC are currently used in retail applications for a
wide variety of tasks: inventory control in warehouses and store rooms
smart mirrors in dressing rooms digital signage for personalized in-store
product information or special promotions, on-product loyalty schemes that
incentive recurring sales, and food, beverages and medications that track and
report their origins, handling conditions and expiration dates. Meanwhile
consumers, for their part, use NFC-enabled phones to interact with in-store
brands and make the mobile payments and other secure transactions supported by
payment cards, smartphones, wristbands and other portables.
In an unmanned store, RAIN RFID and NFC work on their own or in combination to
initiate a buying session, monitor inventory, interact with consumers, track
product selections and make payments. In fact, RAIN RFID and NFC enable an
operating model that can be scaled to support unmanned stores of varying
sizes, from single-serve vending machines and shelves to retail boxes that
accommodate two or three people at a time and larger spaces that can handle
many shoppers at once.
The Basic Approach
As an example, consider a standalone
refrigerator that lets people buy chilled drinks and snacks. The refrigerator
has a RAIN RFID reader inside that can read the RAIN RFID tags on each item
stocked on its shelves. The reader can scan the entire fridge in one pass,
identifying all the products inside without line of sight. There’s an
NFC-driven lock on the door that can only be opened via a secure
authentication from the consumer’s smartphone.
You, as the consumer, have already downloaded a mobile app and registered as a
user, submitting your identity and payment details. When you approach the
refrigerator, you tap your phone to the indicated area to start a buying
session and unlock the door. You select your items, removing them from the
shelves and close the door. The refrigerator then takes inventory again, to
confirm your selections and confirms the purchase with a message to your
phone. The app lets you provide feedback on your experience and in the
unlikely event that something is not right with your purchase—if you
are charged for something you didn’t take, for instance—provides
direct access to customer service. Each transaction is reported to the cloud
to update inventory counts, log purchases and generate data about buying
trends. The RAIN RFID tags can also be used to monitor storage conditions to
make sure perishables are safe to consume.
The same concept can be used for unmanned shelves without refrigeration in
places like office buildings or community centers, so people can buy snacks
and other convenience items without having to interact with a cashier or a
Another way to structure a “take and go” concept is to use a
vicinity-range RFID standard, ISO 15693, which is compatible with NFC.
Electronic shelf labels (ESLs) equipped with NFC present current prices on
digital, updateable displays and offer extra information about the product if
you tap the display with your NFC smartphone. The ESL is connected via ISO
15693 to the retail outlet’s price-management software, located in the
store or in the cloud and can present the latest prices in real time. The ESLs
automate the shelf, with features like dynamic pricing and stock management
and can also be programmed to support self-scan to pay and NFC-based marketing
services, such as geo-location, which can be used to target personalized
offers in real time. ISO 15693 can also be used at checkout where readers scan
your goods and let you authorize payment with your mobile app.
No matter the approach, RAIN RFID/NFC or vicinity-range RFID (ISO 15693) and
NFC, the concept can be scaled to larger footprints. With an elevator-sized
store called a retail box, you can offer a wider variety of goods to one or
two shoppers at a time and with a larger store, about the size of a shipping
container, several people can shop at once. Complexity increases with the
number of shoppers inside the store, but with the right configuration and an
appropriate selection of the available RF technologies, it’s possible
to track items and complete purchases for larger numbers of people.
NXP Is Already There
As a recognized leader in RFID
with top-tier positions in RAIN RFID and NFC, we’re already working
with retailers to deploy unmanned stores. Our portfolio builds on our
long-standing expertise in security too, so everyone
involved—retailers, suppliers and consumers—can trust the
transactions made in unmanned stores and can rely on these technologies to
maintain the necessary privacy.
Our UCODE 8 RAIN RFID solutions can scan up to 1000 items per second with an
exceptionally high accuracy rate of almost 100% and are the preferred choice
by far for tagging merchandise in retail applications.
Our ICODE platform is the de facto standard for high-frequency (HF) smart
label solutions operating at 13.56 MHz and supporting ISO 15693/ISO 18000-3
compliant infrastructures. Our partners are already using ICODE, with its NFC
compatibility, for take-and-go store concepts.
Our NTAG portfolio of NFC tags and label ICs leads the market and is fully
compliant with NFC Forum standards to ensure maximum interoperability with
NFC-enabled smartphones, wearables and other portable devices.
Across these portfolios we offer scalable options for protection including
128-bit AES cryptography for tag authentication, special anti-counterfeiting
features, privacy protection and tag-tamper indicators to ensure trusted
payments and a higher level of confidence that purchases are safe to consume.
We also support all our solutions with an extensive network of support
partners, so retailers anywhere in the world can access local application and
To learn more about how NXP uses RAIN RFID and NFC to support cashierless
and download our new brochure on