Turn it sideways, flip it over, shake it, swipe from left to right—we’ve all had that one item at the self service tills that just won’t scan. And now there’s a steady queue forming behind you to a chorus of tut tuts.
It’s fair to say the humble barcode has its fair share of problems when it comes to retail. And it’s not just consumer experience on the shop floor that’s suffering—there’s plenty of missed opportunities behind the scenes to improve the entire retail supply chain, all thanks to RFID tag technology.
RFID from field to fridge
Barcodes at the farm:
Once touted as the way to make cattle tracking faster, dairy farmers usually assign their cows a barcode that’s then located and scanned by hand using an optical scanner. This gives information such as ear tag number, breed, sex, and date of birth.
Barcodes can be thought of as a fingerprint used to identify an object; or in this case, a cow. But identification is where the usefulness ends.
RFIDs at the farm:
Moving to RFID tags takes almost all of the manual labour out of the equation, and adds some seriously useful functions to boot.
Unlike their barcode counterparts, RFIDs can be read at range. And in some cases multiple tags can be read simultaneously, speeding up data collection while ensuring workers keep a safe distance from cattle (which, it turns out, can be pretty dangerous).
It doesn’t stop there: the tags can also collect and write data. Through simple tracking capabilities, farmers can tell if cattle have moved from the barn to the field, as well as where they’ve been transported to and from and who owned them in the past. Today, this is very important for meeting government policies on disease management; and also, the increasing demand for traceability in consumer products.
Barcodes in the stock room:
Post-farm, once the dairy has been processed, the product is assigned a barcode. It’s then shipped to the shop and placed into the inventory, with workers manually scanning barcodes at each handoff.
RFIDs in the stock room:
Once again, RFID tags can make this stage of the supply chain a breeze.
Unlike barcodes, RFIDs can be read out of line-of-sight. So line a doorway with readers, move the milk through, and you’ve checked your stock straight into the shop’s inventory system.
Not to mention: once the location of those assets are marked, if they go off-route or missing, the owner will be alerted.
Barcodes on the shop floor:
On the shop floor the milk is moved from stockroom to shelf, then manually scanned again at the point of purchase, tallying up the total to pay and removing it from the stock list.
And that’s where it ends for the barcode.
RFIDs on the shop floor:
First, an alert is sent to staff telling them the last carton of milk has been removed from the shelf.
Now fully restocked, our RFID milk doesn’t need to be scanned at a till. Instead, it’s picked up by the shopper, popped into their bag and loaded into the boot of their car—all before the barcode shopper has got to the front of the queue or finishes fumbling with the scanner.
The tag is read as the shopper passes through the exit, triggering the system to charge them for what they’ve left with.
Currently, many retailers use a similar RFID functionality to keep stock safe from theft, with the tag triggering an alarm if it leaves the shop without having been paid for.
And they continue to be useful beyond the till. On the way out, shoppers can tap their NFC (near-field communication) enabled phone on a smart poster equipped with an RFID tag, giving them a 25% off coupon for milk on their next visit.
RFIDs at home:
Once at home, placing the milk in the fridge triggers your smart fridge to analyse the product, including expiry date. Going a step further, once the milk is used up, throwing it in the bin can trigger a smart phone reminder to buy more.
This leads us to the big questions…
Is the market real?
Absolutely. Having ended 2018 worth $11bn, IDTechEx have found that the RFID market will be worth $13.4bn by 2022. This includes tags, readers, software and services for RFID labels, cards, and fobs.
Can I make money?
Retail players don’t want to micromanage their supply chains. They want large-scale, long-lasting deployments that’ll bring tangible benefits to their business.
That means long-term contracts and high volume deployments. Which, for our partners, translates to heaps of revenue.