RFID: The Potential of Distance and Data

A business woman is using card open the electronic door of office

Do you remember when you last bought a book from a brick-and-mortar? Did you leaf through the pages only to see a small white square fall from the book? Notice how the back seems like a basic outline of a circuit? I don’t know about you, but that marked my introduction to the Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tag.

You might know it for another reason. Do you scan a badge to access parts of your office or to clock in for the day? Chances are it carries one of these same squares, a transmitter and receiver embedded into one device. Most likely, it operates with a passive tag, the cheapest option available for RFID. It’s readability, on the other hand, can be one of two varieties: Read-only, or complete with a factory-assigned serial number; or read/write, which can be customized by the user.

The potential for these devices seems almost limitless. While traditional barcodes and QR codes can be tracked with a scan, RFID allows for some distance (and greater automation) in inventory management. These tags can relay information in real time from up to 100 meters from the tag.

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Like our previously purchased book, RFID tags can be slipped into goods to provide an added measure of security against shrinkage via theft. In some cases, these tags can transmit their information over a distance up to 100 meters from the point of origin. Unlike traditional codes, the cost per tag tended to overshadow the potential: Passive tags ran for upward of $0.20 per tag in 2014; currently, the same tags go for between $0.07 to $0.15 per tag on average, but still call for a full equipment overhaul to fully utilize the technology.

The price tag for such upgrades may not be small, but the projected growth rate is: The forecast for the global market revenue sits at approximately $24.5 billion by 2020 while market growth is expected to hit almost 10 percent by 2025. These projections factor in an integration of RFID with the Internet of Things (IoT) in the face of globalization. The potential for universally recognized tags that could store detailed information about products could help ease the growing pains of a burgeoning wide-spread-close-knit worldwide market.


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Picture it: You could place RFID scanners in centralized locations throughout your now multinational office centers (sounds good, doesn’t it?) that, when turned on, will read the product information directly from these tags: What items, how many, manufacturer data, even expiration dates for perishable goods like medications. And only could you do this for a particular location: You could sync your readers and discover your tallies across your holdings!

Healthcare worker showing her badge at the front door of a senior womans home.

Let’s shrink back down to a single nation for a while but keep multiple locations: Say you’re able to open three separate stores within a 50-mile radius. With RFID, your inventory processes at each location could exponentially speed up. The hours spent in each stock room, the counting and recounting, the updates to the database – even with barcode assistance: How much time could you save with a bulk scan that identifies each individual signal for each individual item of a group?  Your incoming count could be over in a blink: A single scan to confirm your shipment didn’t come too heavy or too light.

Now, say your stores share similar stocks but dissimilar sales patterns: Store 1 sells more of X, less of Y, and none of Z; Store 2 sells Y, some Z, but no X; Store 3 sells Z just fine, X to an extent, and suffers from Y surplus. Your RFID system can help compare the quality and quantity of your sales between these locations and help you move stock to compensate instead of placing new orders while leaving old merchandise in the storeroom. These reports can key you in to your customers’ habits and trends throughout your service area and help you anticipate what they might look for next.

You can’t forget: RFID tags remain more expensive than traditional codes at this point. Their benefits may not completely ease that burden on your business but you can’t turn away from the possibilities (it’s OK. We understand). One way you can ease into their use is to reserve them for your higher-end (and less ordered) items. Start with your pricier items and test the waters with them. See if your ROI comes quickly enough to justify your investment.

What if you don’t stock particularly high-cost items? You’re more in line with frequent repeat customers, people you can count on to return time and again, even if for the exact same order. Why not treat them? RFID tags can be inscribed with customized data, including customer information that can be scanned when your VIPs return to the store. They can receive special promotions, discounts, or rebates. You could set that each visit with a purchase of a certain minimum or more adds toward a prize after so many times. You could even keep track of your customers’ shopping habits and offer proactive assistance with their needs.

How would you feel if you received such customer service? Would you be likely to give that business more of your patronage?

Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter

Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp, responsible for the development and execution of the company’s marketing strategy. His role encompasses brand management, direct and channel marketing, public relations, advertising, and social media. He also writes and speaks on topics related to helping small business owners grow their business and improve operational efficiency.
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter
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