NFC tag technology for fashion has come a long way since its initial implementation by Adidas in its sneakers in 2014. In 2023, brands are being challenged to build out the digital experience around NFC tag integration to make it worthwhile, or they face a sunk cost.
Standing for near-field communication, NFC tags have become ubiquitous in the luxury and web3 environments, as fashion brands focus on continuous engagement with their customers post-purchase. NFC tags exchange data with a data reader, like an iPhone, through radio waves when scanned. First created in 2006, they have become prolific in the industry, although not always something that brands have connected successfully into their digital experience once scanned.
“For most brands, connected products are something they’ve never had before,” said Mikhail Damiani, co-founder of connected products company Blue Bite, which has worked with fashion brands like Adidas and Bulgari on their NFC products. “Once a product is purchased and somebody walks out of the store, the brand goes blind as to what interaction is taking place with that physical product.”
As a result of the inexperience of brands that first trialed the technology, early NFC integrations have proven clunky. Some retailers and brands have chosen to link the tags to their e-commerce sites instead of creating a custom experience with added benefits for the brand and the customer.
With costs for NFC tags averaging between 10 cents and 40 cents each, depending on their scale, type and manufacturer, costs for integration can stack up if not executed correctly on the digital experience side.
Bulgari’s implementation of NFC tags can be seen as a worthwhile use case for the technology. The brand embedded NFC into all of its leather goods in 2021. Bulgari’s leather goods are high-value products, and NFC tags allow the brand to avoid the issue of fake goods, which has become an authentication headache for luxury players.
Within the pre-purchase environment in the store, NFC tags on Bulgari products in-store can be scanned, giving the customer information about how and where the product is made. There’s also a secondary use case for people who work in the store. When scanning the same NFC tag, store assistants receive unique information that customers cannot access, like supply chain details and stock quantities.
“Bulgari did a good job at teasing all of the benefits NFCs [offer after] a customer buys the product,” said Damiani. “Other brands can consider these future use cases, too. Does the customer get access to exclusive events? Do they have access to new drops, new product collections, or content that the brand is creating and sending to their most loyal fans?”
Web3 brands have made the NFC-connected experience a part of their appeal to customers who value a continuous relationship with a brand. In its latest launch, 9dcc, a web3 fashion brand, collaborated on an NFC-connected baseball cap with streetwear designer Jeff Staple that will be shown at Paris Fashion Week Men’s this month. The baseball cap uses an embedded NFC chip to offer interactive experiences within the 9dcc ecosystem. When they scan the NFC tag, purchasers can engage in gamification in the digital experience and access personalized POAPs, or proof of attendance badges that issue rewards for engaging in experiences.
9dcc’s digital experiences are custom-built for each product release, with different sections outlining benefits and ways to engage with the brand. All of 9dcc’s products integrate NFC technology. Founder gmoney said a better digital experience also means better data for the brand.
”From the brand’s perspective, our products cultivate data in real-time,” said gmoney. “You can look and say, ‘This New York holder’s interaction with the brand is off the charts.’ While TikTok and Instagram metrics can be farmed or bought, someone providing IRL engagement — which is incredibly hard to forge — is a highly-valuable dataset.”
Brands are learning to take customized, innovative approaches to creating digital environments for NFC tags and the utility they can offer their customers.
For its part, web3 beauty platform Kiki uses NFC tags to collect data and reward customers whenever a beauty product is opened.
“Unlike brands that just reward purchase, we reward use, which is a normal process online as users click around on a page to collect points,” said Jana Bobosikova, founder of Kiki World. “Whenever you open the NFC-enabled Pretty Nail graffiti pen, your phone can silently collect the points for you using it up to once a day.” The points are then visible in the digital experience, where users can receive free items, vote on product colors and get updates from the brand through NFC integration.
“QR codes came out a decade ago and were everywhere,” said Damiani. “Then, pretty quickly, people stopped scanning them because the experience wasn’t so great. If you don’t have the right experience, people eventually will start ignoring the tag. The experience has to evolve with that journey and change over time. It can’t just be the same thing for two years or even two months.”