Is RFID Reinventing Retail? 

During World War II, radars were used to warn about approaching planes. The problem was that these radars couldn’t identify if the detected plane was an enemy or it belonged to their own forces. As a solution, the Royal Air Force (RAF) members instructed their pilots to roll the planes while approaching to alter the […]


  • During World War II, radars were used to warn about approaching planes. The problem was that these radars couldn’t identify if the detected plane was an enemy or it belonged to their own forces. As a solution, the Royal Air Force (RAF) members instructed their pilots to roll the planes while approaching to alter the radar signal reflected back. They recognised this changed signal to identify friendly planes. This technology was known to be the ancestor of what we now call RFID. 

    Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects automatically. An RFID system consists of a tiny radio transponder, a radio receiver and a transmitter. When triggered by an electromagnetic interrogation pulse from a nearby RFID reader device, the tag transmits digital data, usually an identifying inventory number, back to the reader. 

    While we don’t give much attention to RFIDs as consumers, it finds use in many daily tasks such as preventing theft of automobiles and merchandise, collecting tolls without stopping, managing traffic, gaining entrance to buildings, automating parking, controlling access at airports and such. In the retail sector, RFID’s traditional role has been limited to security asset tracking, stock and inventory management. But in the last few years, the simple RFID has emerged from the back-office and found new and exciting ways to elevate the retail experience for consumers.  

    Also Read: Customer is the Channel in Post-Pandemic Retail World

    Interactive Fitting Rooms

    Burberry disrupted the retail experience in 2013 when it opened the London Regent Street store, where fitting rooms were equipped with mirrors that turned into touchscreens. Shoppers who picked up an item to try on were surprised that the mirror on the wall talked back about clothing that was in sync with their style. Items in the store had RFID tags woven in. When the item entered the fitting room, it triggered bespoke multimedia content relevant to the products. The content included runway footage and more information on craftsmanship and design. The idea was to offer customers a truly tailored shopping experience. 

    Retailers are waking up to how such technology can help blend in-store and online shopping. Silicon Valley-based MemoMi Labs Inc created what they call a MemoMi or the Memory Mirror, an award-winning augmented reality and artificial intelligence platform. The Memory Mirror acts as a smart mirror, similarly fitted in trial rooms that transform the in-store and online experience by enabling customers to try products virtually and get recommendations based on their profile, style and preference. Haute couture brands like Louis Vuitton, YSL and Dior have leveraged this technology to lift customer experience at their physical stores. Here, RFID combines a full-length mirror with a 70-inch LCD, computer, and an HD camera that records eight-second videos. 

    Customers can try out clothes without really trying them on, pair them with alternative items and communicate with the store attendant without leaving the trial room. At luxury department store Neiman Marcus’ beauty counter, smart mirrors give shoppers personalised makeup tutorials guided by a makeup artist’s voice. They can recreate looks step-by-step and get more details on the products they used for purchase. The goal is to keep consumers engaged and make them more confident in their purchases. Moreover, it creates a space where customers can share more information without awkward conversations with a pushy attendant. 

    Fashion brand River Island took it further by letting customers post photos from the ‘magic mirrors’ on social media. 

    Also Read: How Retailers Can Drive Multi-brand Loyalty

    Goodbye Long Checkout Queues 

    A Box technologies report found that 41 per cent of shoppers have abandoned a purchase due to long wait times in checkout lines, and 86 per cent avoid stores where they perceive the lines to be too long. RFIDs offer a neat solution to these problems by facilitating the self-checkout counter. Customers place their shopping basket on the counter, all the products get scanned at once, and the counter monitor displays a full list of the products together with the final bill.

    In 2016, when Amazon Go launched a campaign asking customers to walk out, it showed the world a glimpse into the future of grocery shopping. The beta Amazon Go store enabled customers to grab items off the shelves and leave. The store automatically charged the items to each shopper’s Amazon account and sent them a digital receipt for their purchase. 

    The retail concept was Amazon’s first foray into the world of brick-and-mortar businesses. There are more than a few technologies at play here–artificial intelligence, RFID, sensors, and machine learning algorithms, to name a few. By 2020, there are 29 open and announced store locations in Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, London and New York City.  

    Combined with other technologies, RFID also presents an opportunity to solve real-world business challenges like out-of-stock items since customers can easily place an order online or opt for door-step delivery. 

    Also Read: Interactive Content Also Works for B2B Marketing

    Ads That Interact 

    True to its tech-first nature, Wired magazine teamed up with Lexus to include a Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled advertisement in their April 2012 issue. The full-page advertisement asked readers to place their NFC enabled phones near the page. Once the phone read the tag, their web browser opened a URL that played a video describing the new Lexus Enform App Suite, a vital feature of the touchscreen dashboard. Near Field Communication (NFC) tags are designed to store information and transfer various data types to other NFC enabled devices. NFC tags are passive devices (read RFIDs close cousin) that operate similarly without needing a power supply of their own.

    In 2013, a beverage brand in Brazil developed the Buddy Cup. The RFID enabled cup first synced up to the Facebook account of the person holding it by scanning a QR code using their phone. Next, if two such cups clinked, it sent a friend request to the owner of the other cup. The brand played up the message of bringing friends closer. In 2013, Domino’s launched an outdoor advertising campaign augmented with NFC posters. When pedestrians placed their phones near the poster, they could directly download Domino’s new mobile application. The ability to retrieve essential contact information—without making the customer feel the transaction is the most tactful benefit. 


    According to estimates by ReportLinker, the global RFID readers market is forecasted to register a CAGR of over 8 per cent over the years 2021 to 2028. The market growth is facilitated by key factors including, the performance of the retail sector, the complexities associated with the supply chain, and accelerated still by the new normal of the pandemic and changing customer behaviour. 


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