Zaptap Betting on NFC For In-Store Retail Experiences, Despite Apple's Snub

Fredericton, NB-based startup Zaptap is looking to help retailers create “augmented retail experiences” in their stores by allowing consumers to find out more about in-store products on their smartphone. Founded in 2010, Zaptap’s QR code- and NFC-powered product tags mean that consumers can scan a tag to get details about any product, without having to download software or an app. The company has recently secured partnered with 15 major retailers, and will be launching in stores this fall.

Zaptap’s platform has been in testing with clients like Salesforce (the tags were used at last year’s Dreamforce conference) and small retailers in New Brunswick, and they have agreements in place to launch with 15 major retail brands later this fall. CEO Yan Simard said the inspiration for Zaptap was the lack of information associated with products, both in-store and post-purchase. “Wouldn’t it be nice if all the information related to the product came along with it instead of being stored somewhere else,” Simard said in an interview. “We focus on the pre-purchase scenario, and what that means is that we seek to allow retail brands to tell the product story that they want to tell at the point of purchase.”

Once signed up for Zaptap, retail brands or distributors can add profiles for each of their products, or pull that info in from existing databases. Profiles can include everything from detailed product information and images, to YouTube demo videos, to social network profiles. Then they can add product information in-store – Simard said they built the platform to be technology agnostic, and right now consumers can get product information by scanning a QR code, tapping their smartphone against an NFC tag, or by typing a short URL into their mobile web browser.

If retailers want to use NFC tags Zaptap provides the stickers, and the retailer then uses the dashboard to assign products to each tag (they can also use the dashboard to reassign and deactivate tags). For QR codes, Zaptap provides them online and retailers can print to use in stores. “We don’t really care about which technology we use inside the store to trigger the experience, we just use the one that provides the best user experience,” he said.

Right now retailers are typically placing the tags/QR codes/URLs on the shelves next to products, on special in-store displays, and on the actual products. Simard said they work with companies to make sure they display in-store signage promoting the tags and how to interact with them, and that during trials it was mostly the tech-savvy shoppers who understood what to do with them. “Eventually the hope is that people will get familiar with our technology and will recognize it when they walk around,” Simard said.

The company also provides a back-end management dashboard for retailers where they can track consumer behavior and send out offers. The dashboard compiles analytics and tracks consumer behavior, for example seeing which shoppers scanned a given product, which locations were the most popular, and the age and gender breakdown of those shoppers. They can also create targeted deals and incentives, offering shoppers a discount on their purchase, or targeting them with event invites or promotions after the fact (only shoppers that opt in to receive promotions will get those deals).

Zaptap is free for consumers, and merchants pay a monthly fee per active product tag, and though Simard declined to share exact pricing he said they give volume discounts depending on how many SKUs/locations a retailer activates.

In terms of user experience, Simard says NFC is the clear winner, since all consumers have to do is tap their phone against the in-store NFC tags.Yesterday’s iPhone 5 announcement was notably missing NFC capabilities, but Simard was quick to talk about the technology’s increased adoption and potential. He also reiterated that Zaptap isn’t an NFC company, it just uses NFC as one of its methods to reach consumers.

“We were definitely hoping that the iPhone 5 would incorporate NFC, and that would have been the tipping point in terms of market visibility. Regardless of what Apple decided to do, I think NFC is still the leading technology, and that this year is the year where NFC started to get some mainstream recognition,” he said. “Apple is the only big missing player, and I think they missed out on a big opportunity today to make sure they’ll be part of the payment game.”

This fall’s launch will see Zaptap tags being used in Canadian, U.S. and European stores, and they’re also about to announce a partnership with a major marketing firm to help retailers understand how to promote the tags in-store, and to help them create rich product profiles. The company will face an uphill battle when it comes to not only getting retailers on board, but on educating consumers on how to interact with these enhanced product experiences in-store.




Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin Bury is a Co-founder and CEO at Willful, an online estate planning platform. Also a former Managing Director at Eighty-Eight, a creative communications agency based in Toronto. She was formerly the Managing Editor at BetaKit. Follow her on Twitter at @erinbury.

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