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.

Everyday RFID – What You Can’t See is Making Your Life Easier

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 @ 02:41 PM

Tags: RFID, Asset Tracking, Apparel, Consumer Goods

BigBangIn a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, the studio audience had a good hearty laugh about a character’s use of RFID – tagging, scanning, and tracking every item of his clothing – to “simplify” the process of packing for a weekend trip. Though we shared in the laughter as Sheldon happily takes only three hours and eleven minutes to enable himself to track the distance to and weather conditions around each pair of his socks, one question does come to mind: just how far-fetched is the idea of everyday RFID use for consumers?

While the sitcom character is making an exaggerated and absurd use of the technology, finding it necessary to explain step-by-step the elaborate system he’s created, the truth is that RFID has become so integrated into our society that most people don’t even realize just how much they benefit from it.  In fact, if on a typical day of errands, you drove your child to a doctor’s appointment, swung by the public library, and treated yourself to a little shopping, you could encounter RFID at every stop along the way. RFID in your keys gets you into your car. RFID in your toll pass keeps you moving along the highway. RFID in hospitals tracks your son or daughter’s medicine. RFID in library cards tracks the books you’ve checked out. RFID in clothing tags tells retailers if your favorite styles are in stock (they should be, with the technology uniting the supply chain as well). And the list goes on.

However, if you were ever to strike up a conversation with someone about how cool and useful RFID is, you would get a lot of reactions eerily similar to that of the character’s roommate in the The Big Bang Theory clip. But perhaps that is a testament to just how effective RFID is as an integrated technology. It’s becoming so pervasive that people don’t realize it’s been making their lives easier and will continue to do so on much broader levels as it gets more widely adopted by both businesses and consumers. So while our friends from The Big Bang Theory continue their back-and-forth (and somewhere, someone plays the laugh track on repeat), the reality is that RFID typically isn’t even part of the conversation – it’s in the background simplifying data collection and enhancing processes so we can concentrate on our everyday activities.

To Tag or Not to Tag? That is the Question.

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Mar 07, 2011 @ 11:20 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Item Level RFID, Smart Shelves, Consumer Goods

Can RFID end the ongoing debate?   

grocery store stickerWe’re all pretty much accustomed to look at the price on the shelf when we want to know how much an item costs. The tags on the shelf even let us know if a certain item is on sale that week. It seems that only the smaller stores like 7-Eleven still use the orange price tag stickers on the individual items. Or maybe I see those orange stickers because I live in Massachusetts where we have an item-pricing law.

That law was news to me when I read a story in the Wall Street Journal, “In a State of Sticker Shock, Stores Try to Sell Public on a Radical Idea.” The impetus for the article is that retailers in Michigan may be close to forcing a repeal of the state’s Item Pricing Law. It’s similar to the Massachusetts law, except Michigan’s law is the broadest such law in the nation.  Retailers say that the repeal of the law could save them many valuable man hours and costs. But the labor unions and people who hold pricing jobs, say the law protects them and their livelihood.

The alternative is barcode scanning. However there is debate about whether any inaccuracies with bar code scanning could be considered unfair to the consumer.

Could RFID solve the problem and end this ongoing debate? We’ve seen how RFID can streamline operations in many industries, including retail. We’ve also seen examples of how the technology can reduce errors that typically occur in manual processes. It seems only logical that RFID could solve the price sticker dilemma.

As for the employment issue, we’ve seen how RFID will most likely not replace sales clerks, but merely shifted their responsibilities. Rather than spending time doing manual inventory in a back room, the sales clerks are out on the floor interacting with customers, encouraging more sales.

Based on the uses of RFID that we’ve seen and written about, the investment in the technology tends to help businesses grow with more efficient operations, or attract more users because of more personalized and convenient service, whatever the case may be. 

What do you think? Price tag or RFID tag?

The Next Big Step Toward a Multi-Scale Wireless World

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Dec 06, 2010 @ 01:35 PM

Tags: RFID, Connected Devices, Consumer Goods, NFC, Smartphones

Will Consumer Use of NFC Drive Widespread RFID Adoption?

NFCA number of recently published editorial pieces and analyst reports have covered the growing belief that Near Field Communications (NFC) - a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology - may deliver the next big step toward consumer adoption of RFID technology and related applications and services.  What’s driving this belief?  Well, primarily interest from mobile device makers (think high-volume), communications companies (think global networks) and banks (think simplified transactions).  And with this combination of technology, product and financial service providers coming together, you can bet that something is brewing.

NFC for Mobile Commerce

It’s been reported that several major handset makers will begin shipping NFC-enabled smart phones beginning in 2011.  With contactless payment (credit/debit card emulation) projected to be one of the primary uses of NFC in mobile devices, several banks and financial service providers are beginning to take steps to prepare their payment infrastructures. For example, Bank of America launched a retail pilot earlier this year and Visa piloted a program to allow commuters in New York to use their mobile devices to pay for train and bus fares.

Consider further, the power of your mobile phone acting as your wallet without requiring you to purchase any new products or change your behavior. That’s what Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile USA envisioned when they formed ISIS. They’re calling it a “mobile wallet”, positioned to replace cash, credit/debit cards, reward cards, coupons, event tickets and even bus passes.  These three telcos plan to initially partner with Discover Financial Services and Barclaycard US to deliver contactless payments services.

Sounds to me like the necessary pieces of the infrastructure puzzle and some interesting applications are starting to fall into place.

The Promise of NFC

In addition to mobile commerce, other innovative applications using NFC may include interactive advertising, electronic ticketing, electronic access (cars, homes, offices, etc) and the ability for multiple NFC-enabled devices in close proximity to each other to exchange information – in a machine-to-machine (M2M) or peer-to-peer (P2P) mode.  Social networks will also play a role by providing platforms for individuals to share information generated with and by their mobile devices to a massive worldwide audience, in real time.

Take for example Nokia’s next generation phone app - Nokia Situations – designed to transform the smart phone to a “thinking” phone capable of sensing the situation one is in based on time, day, location and available networks.  Consider a phone that could sense your location via RFID, switch into “shopping mode” and then allow you to interact with the retail environment to enhance your shopping experience and your social network to communicate your brand preferences to a global audience.  Of course with all of this innovation, security and data privacy must be a primary focus.  Building in the ability for a mobile device user to go incognito one day and be a marketer’s dream the next could go a long way in terms of consumer adoption.

And it’s not just for retailers. A Mashable blog lists other ways NFC can be put to good use, including improving treatment and research in healthcare, a variety of transportation related uses and the introduction of thousands - if not millions - of new smart objects.

With NFC-enabled handhelds hitting the market soon, could this be the next major industry milestone that drives the widespread adoption of RFID-enabled applications and a true multi-scale wireless world?

Find It, Play It – With RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Dec 02, 2010 @ 09:19 AM

Tags: RFID, Sports & Entertainment, Consumer Goods

Will This Golf Ball Location System Become A Holiday Hit?

RadarGolfWith the holiday season upon us, finding that perfect gift is on the minds of many of us.  But, what do you get for the dad, grandfather or favorite aunt or uncle who seem to already have it all?  I’m sure golf equipment often makes the short list.  Maybe a box of golf balls? Perhaps a new driver or putter? Or how about a pre-paid round at that hard to get on local course?

Better yet, how about something that is guaranteed to take a few strokes off of their game?  A few years ago, Radar Corporation introduced RadarGolf, a system designed to help golfers find balls that otherwise would have been left for lost.  Using the system promises fewer penalty strokes, faster play and less frustration on the course.

The solution includes USGA conforming golf balls that have an RFID tag embedded into them and a handheld device that golfers use to locate lost balls.  An LCD on the handheld reader provides both visual and audio feedback, indicating proximity to the ball.

Sound too good to be true?  Well, the good news is that RadarGolf was a big hit, gaining worldwide recognition and feature coverage on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC. BusinessWeek magazine even named RadarGolf one of the Best Products of 2005.  The bad news is the RadarGolf system is no longer being manufactured.  The company’s website indicates that they plan to bring a “new-and-improved” version to market in the future, but doesn’t indicate when. 

Ebay’s got one though, and it’s in new, in the box condition.

Time Left: 1 day 2 hours (Dec 03, 201008:44:46 PST)

Current bid: US $0.99 + $10.95 shipping!

What a deal.  Gift for Grandpa, check…

Spimes

Posted by Yael Maguire on Thu, Oct 08, 2009 @ 05:45 PM

Tags: RFID, Consumer Goods, MIT, Spimes

Bruce Sterling’s book “Shaping Things” Shaping Things contemplates a future in which all objects produced in our society have microhistories that can be traced.

This is a very broad and exciting vision, and an important one if we are to become a truly sustainable society. Carlo Ratti and his team at MIT have begun to look at the microhistories at the end of the supply chain by tracking trash with a wireless, battery-powered object that reports GPS coordinates over time as it moves along with the trash. At ThingMagic, we believe that once RFID tags are economically feasible enough to add to all of our disposable products, and with RFID readers in trucks and other points in the garbage collection supply chain, we can truly start to track all objects through this part of the industrial cycle. If the product can be identified and all of its material contents known, it will allow us to have some inputs into knowing where high quality materials can be harvested in a closed-loop industrial cycle. Perhaps more importantly, consumers will be able to finally see the end of life of their consumer goods, understand their impact on our planet, and for the non-biological materials, hopefully see them cycled back into a new product, rather than lost, locked into the earth as refuse.

RFID for the iPhone?

Posted by Yael Maguire on Wed, May 06, 2009 @ 06:45 PM

Tags: Reality Search Engines, Consumer Goods, iPhone

Wired recently asked their readers what accessories they would like to see added to the iPhone 3.0, which is expected to be released this summer.

As noted in Wired.com Readers' Best iPhone Dongleware Inventions, adding an embedded RFID reader was one of the top requested new features. The RFID applications the readers were interested in are payments and information access.

The iPhone RFID reader would be used scan products or objects containing RFID tags. The iPhone would then connect to the Internet to complete a transaction or find out more information.

Wired readers tend to be techies. But it is still interesting that awareness of RFID has reached the point that they see value in adding RFID to a consumer device -- interest in connecting the physical world to the digital world.

When this does happen, with millions of devices interacting with billions of objects, we can then start to create Reality Search Engines.

Other suggested accessories include Bluetooth stereo headphones, an external keyboard and automotive diagnostic tool.

For an example of RFID working with the iPhone, view this video from Touch - a research group exploring the way mobile phones communicate with the physical world.

Plexidor's RFID-activated sliding doggie door: it's about time

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Jul 29, 2008 @ 12:34 PM

Tags: RFID Pet Door, RFID, Consumer Goods

Frankly, we're disappointed. It's 2008, the veritable future, and you still don't have an RFID-based automatic sliding doggie door? For shame! The Plexidor Electronic Doggie Door allows for all that nice canine coming and going with none of the less-nice house robbing a regular flap door enables. Your dog gets to wear an RFID chip on his collar, which lets the door know to automatically slide up when he shows up -- hopefully with a sort of squeegee sound to complete the sci-fi effect. Prices range from $700 to $800 depending on configuration.

by Paul Miller, Engadget

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