As the number of available mobile devices equipped with NFC technology continues to rise, business executives, providers and marketers are beginning to embrace innovative techniques to entice, engage and offer a personalized, positive experience in today’s high-paced society. When it comes to dishing out daily deals and enhancing old-fashioned loyalty programs, merchants and marketers alike are continually seeking new options, all with the same goals in mind: Simplicity, engagement and b I. Whether a restaurant, bar or retail store, these merchants are determined to find a revolutionary way to encourage repeat visitors upsell and track the ROI of their promotional and loyalty program efforts, all doing so with the least amount of hassle, contact and time required by the consumer.

Let’s face it, grocery shopping can be a rather tedious chore; to make matters worse, you’re a parent with kids pulling from both arms, you’re a 24/7 businessman required to take a call or quite frankly, you’re just not really in the mood to pull several coupons from your wallet. Couponing, one of the oldest promotional tactics to ever hit the market, can certainly be streamlined with the aid of near field communication. Well, now NFC can alleviate the humdrum process of finding, clipping and presenting coupons at the cash register; shoppers will have the ability to tap or wave their mobile device, thus nullifying the need to find, pull out and present those un-ecofriendly cutouts. The shopper’s data, loyalty points and credentials are embedded within a chip (that is linked to the respective account) found in the phone. Juniper Research has revealed that the total redemption value of mobile coupons is projected to exceed $43 billion worldwide by 2016; mere testimony to the valuable future role NFC technology can serve.

In yesterday’s world, businesses offered their customers those 3.5-inch x 2-inch paper cards, generally kept in wallets, then punched or stamped upon each purchase. Thanks to innovative NFC technology, retailers, restaurateurs and other establishment operators can bring loyalty programs online in a more expedited and efficient manner. Using NFC-enabled smartphones, customers can now ‘tap’ to upload sites, automatically check-in, share information to friends via social media outlets, receive instant notifications when a table is ready, collect individualized discounts, and as mentioned, acquire loyalty reward points and offers. Rather than use the old-fashioned punch cards, NFC ‘touchpoints’ can be adhered to cash registers, tables, and signs, then accessed in an easy, paperless manner, whether it’s to electronically track how many drinks before receiving a free one, sign-up for e-newsletters, or more. Aside from consumer benefits, NFC offers businesses a new and efficient method of keeping track of an emerging customer base. Food, retail and hospitality chains that span across the world have begun deploying NFC-based loyalty programs. Mexican fast food chain, Chido, has announced that its first restaurant in Paris would feature a mobile loyalty program offering customers the ability to tap their NFC-enabled phones on a tablet with a built-in NFC reader at the register to access the chain’s loyalty program. In Sweden, retail chain ICA launched an NFC loyalty program at the Kista, Stockholm branch of ICA To Go. Built into the ICA To Go iPhone and Android app, the new loyalty program was compatible for users with NFC-supported devices. NFC loyalty-based programs have also been unveiled at various McDonald’s throughout France. Only in its infancy, customers at nearly 30 establishments across the country have the option to check-in from what the chain has dubbed “Easy Check-In” kiosks.

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Back in the summer of 2011, the Korean Times reported that Korean coffee shop chain, Cafe Bene, became the first merchant to introduce an NFC-based coupon system that provided customers with a loyalty ‘stamp’ with each visit. Customers with NFC-enabled devices would simply place their handsets close to the NFC reading touchpad to receive instant and intuitive coupons for free coffee promotional events. Since then, we have also recently experienced the emergence of the first-ever NFC loyalty card wallet from shopper marketing service provider, Airtag. Launched in Nice by Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and NRJ Mobile, the so-called “FidBook” was the first NFC-based application enabling easy loading and access to loyalty cards and coupons on an enabled smartphone by consumers to take immediate advantage of discounts and exclusive services at participating retailers.

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NFC eases this process and offers the innovative mode merchants have been seeking for years—the convenient collection of information you really want—location-based services with intent. Marketing will serve as a key player, arguably one of the most popular future applications of the technology. When a critical mass of mobile devices are equipped with NFC and PoS systems have built-in NFC readers, shoppers worldwide can expect to experience a universal adoption of NFC-based coupons. Other than coupons, NFC offers the opportunity for marketers to develop interactive smart posters–event, movie, product and other promotional information is transmitted directly to an enabled phone via the embedded tag in the ad.

NFC will be associated with contactless point-of-sale terminals, product catalogs, couponing, special offers and so forth. Shoppers will be encouraged to browse through images of items on shelves with their smartphones and simply “tap” the image to add the product(s) to their shopping cart. These items will then be purchased and delivered, eradicating both the necessity of heavy bags, wallets and time. NFC will serve as a key influencer in retentive marketing—the ability to unite loyalty and reward programs into the payment process can trigger incentives that encourage customers to return.

It should come as no surprise, but mobile marketing isn’t going anywhere; in fact, Gartner has predicted that the consumer spending on mobile apps stores and digital content will increase from $18 billion this year to a noteworthy $61 billion by 2016. Furthermore, consumer spending on what the leading technology research and advisory company calls “e-text content,” e.g. electronic books, online news and e-Magazines, is forecasted to surge from $5 billion to $16 billion within the next four years.

To facilitate education, awareness and drive marketers implementation of NFC into future campaigns, OTA Training hosts NFC Bootcamp™, two-day showcases across the world highlighting how NFC technology is being used to market companies today while instructing marketers, advertisers and agencies alike how to create and implement effective strategies using the technology in their next campaigns. OTA Training and NFC Bootcamp™ CEO, Robert Sabella, encourages, “As the NFC ecosystem begins to mature and moves from just contactless payments to more marketing based applications, business leaders increasingly need to understand just how they can harness the power of NFC to drive brand awareness, increase revenue, and create an exciting customer experience.” He later added, “More consumers than ever will have NFC smartphones in their hands this year. Mobile applications, point-of -sale, location-based value delivery – all need to be adapted to meet the needs of the NFC-empowered consumer in order to keep a competitive edge.”

Although the chatter surrounding Apple’s inclusion of NFC in the latest iPhone turned out to be nothing more than another dose of speculation, the Cupertino-based giant has the potential to significant alter the entire mobile wallet and marketing realm following the introduction of its new Passbook app. Already integrating the Passbook into their mobile apps is a diverse lineup of major retailers, travel companies and ticket sellers, ranging from Starbucks, Sephora, Walgreen’s and Target to Fandango, United Airlines and Major League Baseball. The Passbook application is more than a mere mobile wallet, but rather serves as a centralized hub for consumers to store loyalty cards, movie and event tickets, and promotions on a user’s Apple product, whether it be an iPhone, iPod Touch or even iPad. Through means of its embedded GPS technology, the app features time and location sensory capabilities, which enables automatic time and location-based ticket or offers whenever and wherever the consumer needs it.

How quickly can the Apple app gain momentum? Well, if this is any indication as to the immediate swell and widespread adoption NFC can experience if and when it is integrated into the next versions of the iPhone, the mobile arena is about to experience a titanic transition. During the first five days following the launch of Passbook, Sephora’s iPhone app was downloaded nearly 300,000 times while the number of loyalty accounts created via mobile increased exponentially. According to relatively early data from Branding Brand, the company that built the beauty retailer’s app, Sephora’s Beauty Card was added to 17,000 users’ Passbooks while another 3,000 were added in the next 24 hours. Now, more than 75,000 loyalty cards have been added to Passbook while a gradual increase is bound to occur following the uptake of the new iPhone 5 and downloaded iOS6. Since its inception, Major League Baseball has also been testing its fans’ reactions in use of Apple’s new Passbook. After introducing the app in the last two weeks of the regular season to four teams, 12% of single-game tickets bought within that biweekly span were stored to Passbook.

Undoubtedly, Apple will act as a catalyst when it does elect to add NFC to the Passbook in the future. However, one cannot help but feel a bit optimistic that this is a step in the right direction towards an NFC-supported iPhone and the universal adoption of NFC technology.

In time, we can expect to see more and more businesses begin to leverage NFC (as well as QR codes until universal adoption is achieved) to allow their consumers to interact and engage in real-time in an effort to receive discounts, loyalty and personalized promotional offers. The promotional marketing and loyalty reward programs of today will soon be implementing the technologies of tomorrow.