A Monumental Shift at LIVE! 2014

By Bill Hardgrave

Retailers are no longer asking, "Should I?" They now ask, "How?"


“I can remember the first RFID Journal LIVE! event, in 2003,” I recently told a group of students. “Wow!” they said. “What was it like in the old days?”

“Well, way back then,” I said, “people came to the conference to learn how to spell RFID.” OK, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, I admitted, but not by much. I recall the conference buzzed with excitement about the new technology. Walmart had asked its top suppliers to begin tagging pallets and cases, and the talk was about the “mandate” and how to satisfy it.

Let’s be honest, in 2003 the technology was good, but it wasn’t great. At Walmart‘s request, I began assisting suppliers in their tagging efforts, and soon after, I founded the RFID Research Center to further this mission.

At RFID Journal LIVE! 2014, the mood was unlike any I have seen. Attendance—by both end users and exhibitors—was up. End users were well-informed and asked intelligent questions during conference sessions and at vendor booths, to learn how to best use RFID to improve their own operations. Among the retailers, in particular, there was a palpable sense of urgency. Those who had not begun using RFID were feeling anxious about how late they were to the game, and those who were using the technology to improve inventory accuracy wanted to add applications (more on those use cases in my next column).

As at past events, I assisted RFID Journal and GS1 with a preconference workshop for retailers and suppliers. Attendance has always been strong, but this year, the room was packed with many new retailers and many more suppliers. The supplier interest is particularly noteworthy, since we have reached the point in adoption that requires their participation.

RFID Journal and GS1 also hosted a retailer-supplier luncheon, which provided an opportunity for folks from Macy’s, VF and other companies who have been using RFID for several years to interact with those who were just getting started. The open-discussion format lasted well past the allotted two hours. To suggest attendees were thirsty for knowledge would be an understatement.

In addition to the workshop and luncheon, I met individually with many retailers and suppliers. In fact, I had so many meetings during the event that I was able to attend only a few conference sessions; luckily, I was able to watch the rest of them online (they are posted in RFID Journal‘s video library).

“Since you’ve witnessed the ancient RFID,” my students asked, “do you have any prognostications about the future?”

“Hard to say,” I replied. “I’m fairly certain RFID in retail will be commonplace. And I’ll probably travel to LIVE! 2024 in an auton­omous vehicle.”

Bill Hardgrave is the dean of Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business and the founder of the RFID Research Center. He will address other RFID adoption and business case issues in this column. Send your questions to hardgrave@auburn.edu. Follow him on twitter at @bhardgrave.