WWD Forum: FeliCa Looks to Reinvent Retail Technology

FeliCa cards are tapped on a console, or even a TV remote control, and can process transactions in 0.2 seconds.

Makoto Yamada

Although the Internet and wireless technologies are transforming the U.S. marketplace, there is plenty of technology in the wings that can change how consumers interact with brands.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Enter FeliCa, which adds a microchip and antenna to what looks like a simple credit card or loyalty card and opens a world of possibilities. The technology is used broadly in Asia, transforming the cards into coupons, hotel room keys and train passes. FeliCa cards are tapped on a console, or even a TV remote control, and can process transactions in 0.2 seconds.

“It’s based on [radio frequency identification] technology that can receive and process and store and send data,” said Makoto Yamada, general manager of FeliCa America at Sony Electronics Inc.

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RFID was supposed to revolutionize how retailers track goods as they flow through the supply chain, bringing cost reductions and increased efficiencies. It has been slower to gain traction than initially anticipated, but the bigger change could be coming to the front end of the store if Sony has anything to say about it.

Yamada said the technology can improve the customer experience, help shoppers engage more with stores and allow for more targeted marketing. For example, shoppers are able to tap their FeliCa-empowered loyalty card on a store television display and get product information personalized to their needs.

Last month, FeliCa cards, which can be applied to easily send smartphones to a certain Web site, were used last month at the Tokyo Girls Collection, a consumer fashion show with 22,000 participants.

Twenty percent of the attendees used the card to register on the show’s site and many started to buy in real time as the looks were going down the runway, Yamada said. Within a day, $590,000 worth of looks from the show had been sold.

“The technology is ready now,” he said.