Findings From NRF 2013 - Will This be the Year of RFID in Retail?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 @ 03:55 PM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Supply Chain, Consumer Goods

NRFThe use of radio frequency identification in the retail market is far from a new concept, but one reported incident at this year’s National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show in particular caught our attention.  Jordan Lampert, COO of Truecount, a ThingMagic partner offering software solutions for mid-sized retailers, was approached at their booth at NRF and offered a cash deposit by the CEO of a nine-store East Coast shoe chain. The executive’s request? For Truecount to send a team out to begin deploying an RFID system for them immediately!

If you’ve attended NRF in New York City before, you’ll know that RFID has been a topic of conversation there for years – but for the most part, retailers haven’t been lining up with bags of cash in hand to put down towards implementing a system. Retailers who’ve already taken advantage of RFID systems are now able to show the fruits of their investment, while retailers who haven’t are unveiling plans to deploy the technology and admitting they’re behind the curve. This year, the focus of the NRF Big Show remained on store-level inventory and POS deployments, with mobile developments dominating the show floor; but a handful of major players in the retail space used the show as a forum to announce their particularly progressive partnerships and endeavors for the future as well.

Taking RFID beyond the store-level, UK retail giant Marks & Spencer and Avery Dennison announced a significant expansion to their nine-year RFID partnership, to the tune of a billion tags deployed in M&S’s more than 700 stores. Shawn Neville, president of retail branding and information solutions with Avery Dennison, explained that "as one of the UK’s biggest retailers, M&S is focused on providing exceptional customer experience and RFID enables that experience by ensuring inventory accuracy from the distribution center to the store floor, providing shoppers with consistent and accurate product availability in-store and online." And with 21 million shoppers walking in and out their doors each week, visibility into operations is entirely necessary for maintaining order.

Finding the benefits of RFID deployments similarly convincing, French fashion retailer Faconnable and Tagsys RFID are turning their partnership from a one-store pilot into a 70-store, multi-continental RFID rollout. By integrating Tagsys’ FiTS (Fashion-item Tracking System) with their third-party logistics suppliers, the sizeable fashion retailer will have complete coverage of the millions of items that they and their partners sell.

Shows like NRF are continually bringing together the greatest minds in connected technology and helping facilitate communication about the value of RFID. Just recently we posted about RFID at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and how fortunate we at ThingMagic were to be able to work with Alcatel-Lucent on the Connected Service Vehicle for their ng Connect program. Though RFID connectivity is already seeing success as a business technology, the attention it gets from major events like CES and NRF helps prove its worth.

For retailers in particular, business goals boil down to a handful of uniform desires: to provide the best customer experience possible, and to do so in the most efficient manner available. What these retailers now realize is that the visibility that RFID systems can provide to their stores and supply chains can affect more than just the cost savings of having better control over inventory. When the entire supply chain becomes a unified whole, the issues that have always frustrated customers, managers, and employees regarding inaccurate information about item availability no longer exist.

And regardless of whether retailers are realizing this because they’re seeing the benefits of RFID systems they’ve deployed or because they’re kicking themselves for not jumping on RFID solutions sooner, it was clear at NRF’s Big Show that RFID is at the top of the agenda for most major retailers. 

RFID at CES 2013 – NFC Dominates, but UHF Wins My Personal Best-in-Show

Posted by Bernd Schoner on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 @ 10:17 AM

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, Consumer Goods, NFC

CES 2013I was walking the halls of CES 2013 last week searching for RFID applications and trying to cut through the noise of an overwhelming number of low-tech offerings: just about every second booth at the event was showing iPhone cases, adding up to probably at least one case for every iPhone user on the planet. Just in case there wasn’t any case to your liking, MakerBot is offering a desktop 3D printer to print your very own personalized case. NFC was a distant second, but still a highly noticeable ‘technology’ at the show.

LG is putting NFC tags into anyone of its new 2013 appliances. Initially homeowners connect to their new appliances with their smart phones using NFC. After the pairing, the smart phone can be used to control the appliance and get a remote status update over the Internet.

Sony shows how to pair a personal smart phone with an external speaker system: just tap the phone, and the music magically starts playing through the wireless speaker system, courtesy of NFC and Bluetooth - no wires and no tedious pairing procedure.

Samsung, in collaborations with Cesar entertainment, has installed in excess of 4,500 NFC-enabled so-called TecTiles all over Las Vegas. Visitors who scan a tile with their Samsung phone get access to general information about an attraction, watch tutorials on table games and slot machines, buy show tickets, or make dinner reservations at a nearby restaurants. If you ask me, all of this could be done with a simple QR code, but that wouldn’t be nearly as cool…

Incipio introduced an iPhone case with integrated NFC reader, capitalizing on Apple’s hesitation to integrate NFC in iOS devices…. but wait, am I rambling about smart phone cases again?

No question, NFC has reached a tipping point and is making its way into the kitchen, the living room, entertainment applications, and payment systems - in short pretty much all the applications it was meant to cover and then some. However, an easily overlooked little demonstration using UHF RFID - in my humble opinion - will in time have an equally important impact on the consumer electronics industry: NXP showed their I2C-RFID chip at work inside a tablet computer. In the demo, a retailer – online or brick-and-mortar - configures and customizes the tablet as a gift for a particular user at the point of sale. At check-out, relevant information is downloaded wirelessly into the I2C memory of the tablet: name and relation of the recipient of the gift, let’s say it’s your mom; access credentials of your mom’s home WiFi router, a gift card for X dollars of e-book downloads. As your mom opens the package and turns the tablet on for the first time, she is greeted by a full-screen Happy Birthday card signed by you. Next she is taken to the online store to select a book of her liking in exchange for the gift card. Each time she uses the tablet, the desktop image reminds her of you and the happy occasion of the gift.

I say, that is progress over the conventional way of introducing your parents to digital gadgetry - remember those agonizing phone calls trying to get their new PC online? I have written about how it works in detail here: Five-Cent Wireless Networking – The Most Important Invention in RFID Yet. Remarkably, NXP is able to show read-ranges in excess of ten feet by using the metal housing of the tablet as RFID antenna. Apparel retailers have started to put UHF POS readers and anti-theft gates into stores. I predict that electronics retailers will follow with similar programs shortly. In addition to using embedded RFID for shrinkage-prevention and logistics, Electronics retailers will be able to offer value-added applications for the consumer.

ThingMagic had a significant presence at CES as part of Alcatel-Lucent’s ng Connect program. Together with a number of other technology providers we designed the Connected Services Vehicle (CSV). Among other features, the CSV leverages UHF RFID for real-time asset and tool management on a services vehicle. If you want to know what the system is about, watch Alcatel-Lucent’s video of their presence at CES.

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