As the number of smartphone users continues to grow at an incredible rate, the challenge facing many retail brands is to continue to find ways of utilising smartphone technologies to effectively connect and engage with consumers. In recent months many retail brands have focused on smartphone features that integrate with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, to not only create something new and unique as part of the consumer journey, but to also take advantage of the fact that through successfully integrating social media with the overall brand experience, the likelihood of fans and customers “sharing” branded content and increasing brand visibilty in the social space is also increased; something that more and more companies are continually striving to achieve across multiple social media and online PR campaigns. Interestingly, something that an increasing number of people are now starting to talk about when looking at the ways smartphones are shaping consumer and brand day-to-day lives, is Near Field Communication technologies (NFC) and the possibilities that they present.

In short, Near Field Communication technology enables smartphone users to gain instant access to digital data from another NFC enabled handset or NFC tag simply by placing or waving their phone next to the NFC tag. Much like scanning a QR code or connecting via Bluetooth, the tag then sends content automatically between the handset and the tag - be it a Foursquare-style check-in at a record store or access to an exclusive in-store promotion. Although at first this may not seem all that different to what we have seen recently with the introduction of QR codes, the possibilities we are seeing for NFC technology are far greater. So much so, that we're not only seeing an increasing number of smartphone brands integrating the technology into their latest handsets, we are also starting to see large named brands such as Google, Visa and MasterCard getting involved at what is a very early stage.

In light of this, below are three reasons as to why we will soon start to see NFC technologies appearing more and more:

1. Real-life Facebook “Likes” – Much like we saw with the recent Diesel “Like” campaign, finding a way to enable consumers in-store to “Like” and share real-life content back onto their Facebook and Twitter pages will surely be invaluable. Up until now “Liking” and sharing on Facebook has remained for the most part an online activity, liking content via Facebook buttons on websites or within Facebook news feeds. By taking this process into the real world, NFC technology will enable users to “Like” and “share” anything they see with an NFC Facebook tag. For example, imagine browsing in a Levi’s store and wanting to tell friends about the latest pair of jeans you are looking to buy, via NFC on your smartphone you will now be able to “Like” the item from within the store and post this onto your Facebook wall. By making it easy for fans and customers to “share” and “like” as part of the in-store browsing experience, the possibilities for brands to extend their reach and visbility into social media are huge. Additionally, there is also the consideration of the impact this could have on social search. For example, the possibility that retailers could introduce a real-life Google+ button for shoppers to +1 items via NFC in-store would ultimately create a whole new side to search engine optimisation, which for the first time gives weight to content outside of the online space.

2. Quick payments – With Google, Visa and Mastercard already closely involved with developing NFC technologies as a brand new form of payment, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that we could be very close to seeing a whole new way of spending and transferring money. The perfect example of this at the moment is with Google’s new Google Wallet, an Android app that works alongside Near Field Communication technology to transform your smartphone into a virtual wallet, storing information and access to multiple accounts all in once place. Eventually, the aim is for your Google Wallet to be able to store all your gift cards, boarding passes, subway tickets, even your car keys. It has even been suggested that payments via NFC could lead to the creation of a whole new type of social media currency, with automatic wall posts created upon purchases and exclusive offers for users sharing check-ins on their own social media profiles. All of which will be accessible automatically simply by waving your NFC enabled smartphone next to an NFC tag. 

3. Ease of use – With QR codes, users were required to find and download a QR code reader application and open this application each time they wanted to scan a QR code. Whilst to some smartphone users this was all part of the fun, it certainly hasn't received the levels of mainstream uptake first expected. As is often the case with newer technologies, wherever there are barriers to use there are always going to be questions as to just how many people will make the most of utilising these features as part of their day-to-day lives. However, one of the biggest benefits of NFC technology over QR codes is that with NFC technology the code reader is already inside the phone. There is no requirement to download an app and open this each time - users simply touch their smartphone to the NFC tag and the phone instantly connects with the code automatically. The result of which is instant check-ins, instant access and engagement with current and upcoming in-store promotions, and instant transfer of exclusive digital content such as mp3s, competitions, coupons, videos, and games. We have even seen in some instances, NFC technologies being used at subway stations to access subway maps, timetables, purchase digital tickets and even transforming the smartphone into the ticket scanned to access the subway station.

Although we are still very much in the early development stages with the use of this kind of technology, as the number of smartphones with NFC enabled technology continues to grow as well as the number of credit card companies jumping on board, it is surely only a matter of time before we start to see more and more people using their smartphones to pay for their morning coffee. Similarly to QR codes and location-based services, much of the success of NFC technology will depend on the adoption of big-name brands to not only raise consumer awareness but to ensure that the benefits for customers to use NFC as part of their browsing experience are unique, rewarding, relevant and appealing. Additionally, those brands working alongside a creative tech PR agency that are able to effectively integrate NFC smartphone technologies into their overall social media and marketing campaigns will almost certainly be at the forefront of a whole new type of real-world social media engagement.