Mobile Commerce: Leave Your Wallet at Home - All You Need is A Smartphone

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October 01, 2011
Mobile Commerce
Robert Dawson

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Near-field communication on mobile devices change the way your guests pay for services and interact with information.


In November of 2010, Google’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt, provided a glimpse of what was in store for the new Android operating system (OS) code-named, Gingerbread. One of the key highlights of the Gingerbread OS is the inclusion of software to support an integrated near-field communication (NFC) chipset. NFC is a short-range wireless technology for contactless data exchange between two devices. NFC is not a new technology and has actually been around for quite some time.  In fact in 2004, Nokia, Sony and Philips electronics founded the NFC forum to promote the short-range wireless connectivity technology. The NFC short-range wireless technology is very similar to Bluetooth; however, instead of programming two devices to work together, as in Bluetooth, the two devices can simply touch to establish a connection.  With the backing of a major player like Google, NFC is poised for mass market appeal.

One of the first phones to market using the new Gingerbread Android OS and NFC technology will be the new Sprint Nexus S. Google’s immediate vision for NFC technology is to use the contactless data exchange as a mobile payment system. Schmidt imagines a day when you can leave your wallet home, because all of your credit card and banking information is securely stored on your mobile device.  Many major banks such as Bank of America, CitiGroup and Chase are looking to provide point-of-sale (POS) systems with the appropriate scanning and merchant terminals needed to accept mobile payments. 

Though the prospect of using your mobile device to pay for things is exciting, the implications of NFC technology go well beyond just mobile commerce (m-commerce). One of the key features of NFC technology is that the chips, also known as smart tags, are cheap and easy to mass produce. The NFC smart tags can be imbedded in all sorts of products and devices. The current NFC communication protocols allow for small amounts of information to be exchanged between any two devices that are close to each other. An example of this may include a URL to a mobile menu for a restaurant or a movie poster (smart poster) that provides a video trailer that automatically starts to play on your mobile device. 

In addition to mobile payments, Google is also looking to leverage NFC smart tags for business owners that use Google Places. They are currently setting up a pilot in Portland, Ore., where they will provide business owners with a Google Places Business Kit that includes a Google Map push pin window sticker that has an NFC smart tag embedded in it. Customers can walk past a shop and get the establishment’s full Google Places listing information, including map details, phone number and hours of operation.

From a hotelier’s perspective the opportunities to use NFC technology are limitless. There are several lock companies considering NFC technology to enable guests to use a mobile device as a room key. The lock could easily be programmed with a two-way NFC smart tag and an encrypted access code could be texted or emailed to your phone upon check-in. What’s more, this technology may eventually see the day when guests can check in from the airport and simply walk to their rooms with a mobile device in hand. 

The challenge for hoteliers is to find creative ways to use the technology for strategic purposes.  This includes embedding NFC tags throughout the hotel to provide guests with information on demand. Additionally, NFC tags can also be used in traditional printed collateral to push mobile coupons, hotel video content, and even provide the ability for the guest to opt in to mobile text marketing programs.  Unlike the increasingly popular QR codes, the user does not need to download or install a special reader app; the chip and software are already built into the mobile device.  The NFC codes are also much easier and quicker to read since there are no tricky bar codes to line up and read; you simply swipe or touch your phone and you’re done. 

The social media implications for hoteliers using this technology are staggering. The concept of checking in via the social networks could become as easy as waving your mobile device past a smart tag located in your hotel room or the lobby, and instantly your "friends" know your location.

Leave it to Google to take an existing technology and push it to the forefront and make it mainstream.  However, it has been rumored that the new Apple iPhone 5 will come with a NFC chip set preinstalled, which means the audience of potential users could explode; and as banks, payment gateways and major retailers all push for the m-commerce revolution, many other phone makers will have to adopt the NFC technology quickly.

So brace yourself:  the ability for a hotel or chain to push and collect information from a user’s mobile device using this fully integrated wireless technology means the way the hospitality and travel industry thinks about marketing is about to change–again.

Robert Dawson is the vice president, Internet marketing and Web development services for Sabre Hospitality Solutions. He leads the company’s online technology innovations in the areas of SEO, website development, mobile development and custom website application development.

©2011 Hospitality Upgrade
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