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RFID Moves Beyond Tracking

Companies are now using the technology to better manage their relationships with customers, and to enhance the value of their products.
By Mark Roberti
May 11, 2009Radio frequency identification has reached a new phase in its evolution. You could call it the "post-tracking" stage. To be sure, this stage is just beginning, and it will take years before it fully flourishes, but two case studies presented at last month's RFID Journal LIVE! 2009 conference revealed how the technology's evolution will progress.

One case study was presented by Robert Urwiler, CIO of Vail Resorts, which operates five of the 10 busiest ski resorts in the United States (see Vail Resorts Sees RFID in the Forecast). I was a little concerned that people would see his presentation as relevant only for ski resort operators, which is not a big audience for us. But the RFID deployment was not so much about operating a ski resort, as it was about customer relationship management and improving the customer experience. Urwiler's session was well attended, and many were impressed with Vail's strategic approach. The company also happened to win the 2009 RFID Journal Award for best use of RFID in a service (see Voegele, Vail, FOCUS and ODIN Technologies Win RFID Journal Awards).


Vail developed an Easy Scan system to verify customers' ski lift passes. The company deployed RFID interrogators at the base of the mountain where skiers and snowboarders get on ski lifts, and farther up the mountain, where special lifts take visitors to terrain parks, back bowls and other areas. The system has increased fraud detection by 100 percent, Urwiler told attendees, because it's tied into a back-end database that enables staff members to detect when people are sharing badges.

But what's more compelling about the deployment is that Vail Resorts is utilizing the RFID data for marketing. If, for instance, a snowboarder spent much of his time on one of the resort's seven official bowls, marketers could send him enticing e-mail promotions focused on those bowls. And if a skier spent more of her time in the terrain parks, the marketing team could entice her with information regarding enhancements to those parks, such as new trails. This type of information is critical at a time when consumers are cutting back discretionary spending, and when competition for vacationers is intense.

"When you are 10 percent above forecast, no one looks at the data and asks why we exceeded our forecast," Urwiler told the LIVE! audience. "When you are 10, 15 or 20 percent below forecast, everyone wants to know why. We're pleased that we have the [RFID infrastructure] in place to gather data, so that in the future, we will be able to improve our marketing campaigns and achieve better conversions."

The system also improves the customer experience. Guests are issued RFID-enabled lift tickets, so they no longer need to remove their gloves and fumble for passes—a convenience that helps differentiate Vail from other ski resorts. (On Wednesday, May 13, RFID Journal will offer a free webinar detailing Vail Resorts' deployment; for more information, or to register, please click here.)

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