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RFID Transforms Customer Service, Retailing and Consumer Goods

September 23, 2010
First time round, it ended in tears. Six years ago, some of the leading consumer goods companies and some of the retailers they supplied said that billions of RFID tags would shortly be applied to pallets and cases. However, it transpired that this was tricky to do at the UHF frequency chosen and, although the RFID suppliers and consumer goods companies lost several hundreds of millions of dollars trying to make it happen, it only benefitted the retailers. And the retailers were very reluctant to invest much money or even staff training into the opportunity.

Fast forward to today, and only a modest number of pallets and cases are tagged but, at last, a price rise for the tags has stuck and the RFID tag makers can see losses reducing even if major sales remain elusive. The system integrators have made a little money on the enterprise throughout.

Wrong to generalize

As with many false starts in industry, this has led to a generalization that RFID is of no use in that sector. However RFID is now being adopted very rapidly for retailing, consumer goods and customer service. It is just that it is happening in a completely different manner—tagging items, using RFID enabled mobile phones and RFID cards for payment, improving the consumer experience in other ways and reducing crime.

Tagging the items

Tagging the items themselves benefits everyone in the value chain so even jewellery, artificial fire logs and knives are being tagged before appearing on the shelves. Most dramatically, about 100 retail chains have apparel tagged at manufacture, including full range general supermarkets.

The business case is so clear and compelling that the number continues to rise rapidly and the result is better stock control, particularly reducing the number of stockouts. Imaginatively used, it is also providing many secondary benefits such as recommending accessories using a "magic mirror."

NXP is the leading RFID chip supplier for this sector and most others. Avery Dennison is the leading RFID tag supplier to consumer goods and retailing applications by offering the UHF labels required, though it also offers HF inlays to the world's favourite RFID frequency HF (13.56 MHz). RedBite Solutions and Sony Supply Chain Solutions are progressing RFID systems from factory-to-shelf applications that join up the dots. Indeed, Savi has made a huge success of applying RFID to heavy logistics such as intermodal containers using 433 MHz active tags.
 

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