If you’ve worked in retail over the past few years, you have almost certainly interacted with RFID technology in some capacity without even realizing it. Radio frequency identification has been around for a considerable amount of time—long enough where we’re beginning to find advantageous ways of utilizing this technology. RFID is quite simple, and involves tags or “chips” that contain a small circuit with data, in addition to an antenna that communicates with a separate reader or “interrogator.”
In its simplest form, RFID chips perform the same functions as barcodes in that they provide each product with a unique identifier. Having said that, RFID merely scratches the surface of what this technology is capable of accomplishing in the retail industry. Data helps keep tabs on practically everything that occurs in retail, with industry movers and shakers being used to deal with information delays. The retailer needs to gather, order, and render any information into an actionable format, which can sometimes take more time to accomplish than most retail workers have in such a fast-paced working environment.
During peak shopping times, quick and timely access to information is essential. Data gathering can now happen practically any time and at every step of the supply chain. Taking inventory stock, for example, has always been considered a laborious, time-consuming task that most retailers previously choose to do no more than one or two times per year. Now, thanks to RFID technology, this process can happen almost instantly.
In terms of similarities, RFID chips and barcodes share some mutual qualities—to a certain point. Both technologies can aid workers in tracking inventory as it moves around, including variations on a single product. One of the barcode’s limitations is how they often require individual handling and scanning with an immobile station or handheld wand, both of which are considered “line-of-sight” devices. RFID chips, however, can be handled in bulk. For example, a single scan can determine how many of each SKU just arrived. Workers will enjoy greater efficiency since they’ll perform fewer individual “touches” on products upon arrival, when they move about, and until their eventual sale.
Taking into consideration how the world is seeing less of a need for human labor in some industries, this is something that RFID technology is affecting. RFID tags can expedite parts of the retail process to ensure consumers obtain functional merchandise en route either from a supplier or nearby store. Simply put, instances like this show how RFID tags allow more work to get done with less effort.
RFID technology has also impacted data points concerning customer behavior and insights. With each RFID tag containing several data points (including product numbers and information about each SKU), pairing this particular information with customer data in real time has some noteworthy benefits. At checkout for example, you can record the product type exiting a store, which can then be combined with customer data like payment methods and whether the buyers are returning shoppers. You can even use RFID tags to maintain and act on how customers move through a store. Retail business owners can use this data for decisions like reconsidering how to arrange their store layouts or even sharpen their marketing tactics based on customer interactions with merchandise and the frequency of purchase returns.