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Usability a Hurdle to Consumer RFID Adoption

AMR Research analyst Dennis Gaughan herein considers a major hurdle to RFID adoption by the consumer. No, not privacy. Usability.
Aug 15, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

August 15, 2005—There are many issues surrounding the broader adoption of RFID technology; immature technology, high costs, and emerging standards are probably the three that cause the most anguish today. Another real hurdle has to do with the interaction between consumers and RFID technology. There has been a great deal written about RFID as it relates to privacy, and those concerns are something that many retailers are taking very seriously. But another, perhaps lesser-known, issue is how usable RFID will be as item level tags emerge and consumers actually have to interact with the technology.

A recent personal experience has crystallized this issue for me. My family and I were traveling back from a vacation on the Jersey shore. Living in Massachusetts, we have used its automated toll collection system (Fast-Lane) for years, which is in essence an active RFID system. As we were driving through the tolls on the Garden State Parkway, I kept getting an extremely ambiguous error message. It was unclear whether the system was accepting our device or not. Calls to the providers yielded little information as to the actual cause, just reassurances that everything was ok.

It struck me that these devices work great most of the time, but when you do have a problem it is very difficult for the consumer to truly understand the nature of the issue. Part of this is due to the fact that these devices are purposely designed to store only a little amount of information. This places a heavy requirement on the systems interacting with the tags to deliver the valuable information that provides clarity to the consumer. In my example, the systems and the people behind them (as responsive as they were) still couldn’t give me a definitive answer as to whether my tag was actually working.

The longer-term vision for RFID in retail promises interactive displays for cross selling and tags interacting with smart appliances, etc. However, the inherent conflict between the form factor of RFID and the need for usability to meet consumer expectation will eventually be a bigger hurdle to consumer acceptance than the privacy issue.
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