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Observations from NRF's Big Show, Part 2

RFID solution providers showed off some "secondary" retail applications.
By Mark Roberti
Jan 18, 2015

In last week's column, I shared some observations from the National Retail Federation's Big Show 2015 conference (see Part 1). In particular, among the radio frequency identification companies exhibiting, there was a strong push to make solutions easier to use and deploy across a chain of stores. Now, I'd like to share a few more observations.

Last year, all the buzz at the Big Show was about data analytics. I found this curious, since inventory accuracy is only 60 percent to 65 percent at most stores, so much of the data that retailers have is bad, and there really hasn't been an easy way to capture information concerning customer behavior in stores, the way there is online. This year, there was not much about data analytics. It seemed most vendors were instead pushing mobile and omnichannel solutions. Again, it's difficult to carry out omnichannel retailing without RFID, because you don't have the inventory accuracy and data visibility to be able to fulfill orders coming in from multiple channels.

The other thing that struck me was the focus on "secondary" RFID retail applications. Let me take a moment to explain that term. Five or six years ago, the RFID Research Center, then at the University of Arkansas and led by Bill Hardgrave, identified four primary use cases for RFID in retail: improving inventory accuracy, reducing out of stocks, detecting shrinkage and locating products. Other applications, such as improving the customer experience, are considered second-order or secondary use cases. And there were a lot of these on display at NRF.

Impinj exhibited a series of applications developed by partners for its xArray antenna system, which can be placed in the ceiling of a retail store, distribution center or any other location, and thereby locate a tag within a 40-foot radius. One application showed the expected stock on the shelves and the number of each item picked up—inventory-counting at the push of a button. The application also made it possible to locate an item within a store simply by clicking on its image on a screen. It could identify items brought into a fitting room, for instance, and then show images of complementary accessories.

One of the coolest applications involved a display with a rack that holds a snowboard. A shopper could place different snowboards on the rack. The system would read the RFID tag on the board and show a video about that specific board, along with additional information. In some cases, a customer could use a touch screen to customize the board. The app was developed in conjunction with a snowboard manufacturer that wanted greater control over its brand, and over how retailers across the country sell its boards.

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