The Future of Intelligent Retail


Last year’s Dieline hosted Webinar “Creating Experiences through Interactive Packaging” featured Andrew Gibbs of The Dieline, Gerardo Herrera Director of Packaging Art Center (catch him at theDieline Conference 2014), and Jay Goulliard of Avery Dennison. The discussion focused on NFC and it’s application within supply chain and potential consumer retail interaction. The benefits within the supply chain are clearly visible: the cost savings, and process streamlining through automated inventory management is a clear winner. If you are not aware of NFC, it is an application of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags that can be embedded into inventory and at close range can be read with an NFC–enabled device. For example, NFC–enabled products can be scanned as it is loaded onto delivery vehicles, storage, or retail shelves to manage inventory quickly from a handheld device. In sharp contrast NFC’s use within the consumer retail experience, in my opinion, requires too much time and effort on the part of the consumer by interrupting the shopping process from being truly effective.

Interactive packaging benefits won’t be felt at retail until many of these packaging technologies are implemented together as one complete system.


The dialogue within Design Packaging continues to focus on expanding and building on brand micro experiences beyond the unveiling process, and how packaging can punctuate the brand’s story. We also focus on the macro experiences where packaging plays a smaller part in the much larger process of retail branding, consumption, and future sustainability. During the “Creating Experiences” webinar we pointed out how the process should not waste the consumer’s time but instead focus on streamlining the shopping experience, and provide true user benefit. Many of these app & pack systems (NFC/QR/AR) require users to stop, scan a shelf, or individual pack with a mobile app, then depending on mobile speeds it will launch a website, additional information about the product, cross promote products, open a Facebook page, or at grocery provide a recipe. This is not the future I want to build. The future is fast and limitless, not slow and wonky.

LEFT: Easily customizable shopping and recipe list. RIGHT: Streamlined viewer, map and checklist. 

Too many steps and various apps in an unfulfilling process has the potential to lose customers, and convolute a brand’s promise. The short-term goal of some retailers may be to delay your departure from the premises, because the longer consumers are in-store, the likelihood to spend increases. It’s basically applying an out of date Mad-men era thought process to current buying patterns and information accessibility.

eCommerce continues to grow at a steady pace as tech integrates with our daily lives to the point that NFC enabled thermostats like Allure’s Eversense know when we come home, what temperature each person enjoys, and which playlist to queue up. The consuming public is looking for personalized speed at every transaction, the complete opposite of what many brick and mortar retailers are delivering. So, how does packaging fit into that mix? Glad you asked.

Since most everyone can relate to grocery shopping, we’ll use that as the example. Imagine walking into your local grocer with your shopping list on your phone with the goal of getting in and out as quickly as possible. In order to track your geographic position and personalized data, the cart is made aware of your list, displays an in–store map, and the location of your items directly on your phone in geographic order (similar to Aisle411 or Apple’s wifislam, yet not connected to a specific app to improve speeds and data storage in-store). Recognizing your shopping list and location, you’re shown items en route that pair well with what you’re purchasing based on personalized profile data such as taste, preference, grocery budget, and allergies. The goal is to never detour your travel, but instead streamline and educate as you go about your trip. Since this is my vision of the future, once you’re done payment is contactless as you walk out of the doors.

The goal of packaging should never end at the moment of purchase. This is just the beginning stage for delivering designed moments in subsequent micro interactions. This technology can go a long way to build upon consumer’s in-home experiences. Smart packaging combined with NFC would allow equipped refrigerators to track inventory, expiration dates, control food degradation, and manage your grocery list available on your phone. One of the largest obstacles to recycling and packaging is that not everything is recyclable everywhere. NFC enabled trash bins will help notify you what is and isn’t recyclable in your area, educating consumers to the limitations of their municipalities, and potentially changing their purchasing decisions. I could go on and have my fridge order my food as inventories deplete. But honestly, I enjoy going to the market, I just don’t want to make a day of it.


Smarter packaging is not the be-all and end-all, it is simply a means to streamline purchasing decisions, educate consumers, and increase sustainability. Grocers are a great place to start, but why not extend this to larger centers such as shopping centers, and cities?

If I know the suit I’m looking for I would love for my phone to show me all the locations that stock it in my size, color preferences, and what they retail for. Given the above scenario, on my way to pick up the suit (if I decide not to have it shipped directly to my home), I can receive cross–promotions of accessories that pair well, and even local events I may be interested in attending with my new suit.

This may just be what’s need to bring me back to brick and mortar shopping from eCommerce. Are iBeacons (BLE) going to deliver the starting point for this process?


NFC refrigerator technology indicators track inventory and expiration dates.


NFC bins makes recycling accurate and effortless.


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