The many empty storefronts resulting from the struggling U.S. economy could be repurposed to play a prominent role in the future of mobile payments.

If this happens, the practice would follow an example being set by a test in the UK involving online shopping giant Shop Direct.

While it's common in the U.S. to see posters or window displays that carry quick-response (QR) codes that can be scanned by mobile phones, Shop Direct is going a step further in having its online department store take over the windows of an empty shop in the busy Liverpool One shopping center.

Very has opened a "digital window shop" through the end of December to promote various fashion trends. The billboards in the display windows contain Near Field Communication tags and QR codes to let shoppers complete purchases and have products delivered the next day.

Mobile devices built with NFC chips can read data from the tags, and those without NFC chips can use the phone's camera to scan the QR codes.

Even though a brick-and-mortar location is generally not part of an e-commerce retailer's agenda, the presence of vacant display windows and the incorporation of NFC tags in the process changes that thinking, says Gareth Jones, group retail director at Shop Direct, in a press release.

"A third of traffic to the website now comes from mobile devices and we are constantly innovating to enable shoppers to more easily engage with the brand and browse and buy our products while on the move," Jones says.

Depending on the response from shoppers, Shop Direct says it plans to try the window-shopping concept in other cities.

More than anything else, the Shop Direct test illustrates how NFC has become a powerful tool for communicating product information, sales and offers, says Zil Bareisis, a London-based senior analyst for research firm Celent.

"As we always say, it's important to distinguish between NFC as a communications technology, enabling two devices to talk to each other, and NFC in the secure card emulation mode," Bareisis says. "While the former will undoubtedly catch on, it is the latter, as we know, that has been struggling lately."

It is more likely that more shoppers will have QR-reading apps on their phones than some form of NFC reader at this time, says Gareth Lodge, also a London-based senior payments analyst with Celent.

The concept of digital window shopping will likely catch on because of its low cost to retailers, Lodge says.

"I'd love to see the data, such as how many were new customers?" Lodge says. "How many bought there and then, and with which technology?"

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