A Reflection on Smart Packaging

By Edson Perin

Technologies such as RFID, NFC, digital printing and QR codes, among others, are making packaging ever smarter.

Since it was first launched in the early 2000s, RFID Journal has addressed issues related to the development and use of radio frequency identification technologies in business. The same is true of RFID Journal Brasil, which launched in 2011. But much has been done beyond this frontier, with other technologies—complementary to RFID or not—that impact business as intensely as RFID and its variants have been doing year after year, and with tags that go far beyond passive UHF.

Business is the engine of change. Consider, for example, that the packaging industry has found that, in addition to the benefits of traceability and inventory management, products that carry smart tags—or other features that allow companies to read additional data or activate applications—can generate services that complement each other. Imagine a wine label that could be read in multiple languages, with text always displayed in a consumer's native language.

This isn't just science fiction. Packaging truly is radically adapting to the needs of buyers, whether through information brought in the format and desire of each customer, or thanks to innovation in consumer experiences. This bottle of wine with this label already exists! It's the creation of an Australian company called Third Aurora. Imagine, then, what a beverage bottle could teach consumers about how to make a drink with other ingredients in an easy and fun way.

Motivated by these fantastic creations, I often wonder about the limits that such technology developments could bring to business, and I end up imagining things that are sure to be on the supermarket shelves at our disposal shortly. The limits are those of our imagination.

One such idea: How cool it would be if, when you arrived at a physical retail store, an employee were to hand you special glasses so you could see how clothes could be matched, using your own personal avatar as a model? You could take a pair of pants and a T-shirt, then place them in front of you, and when you looked in the mirror, you would automatically be dressed in the chosen pieces, as though by magic.

Perhaps this same magic-mirror technology could tell you the ideal size of shirt and pants to buy in order to achieve the same result as shown in the picture. Or, perhaps, it could suggest adjustments that should be made to the parts to customize them. Smart mirrors have been studied and tested in practice for some years now, since RFID made it possible to automatically identify products at a low cost and without any human input, but now there are real opportunities for using this technological resource to provide many more customer benefits.

The important thing is not the technology per se, nor even the business itself. What I mean is that besides technological possibilities, inventory control, product authentication, traceability, efficiency gains and cost reductions, what matters is the consumer—who, at the end of the supply chain, is the one who will decide whether to purchase commodity A or B. Thus, it is the shopper who ultimately needs to be positively impacted.

I believe that if technology is used for all product phases, from manufacturing and selling to recycling, and with clear consumer gains in mind—including an enjoyable experience—then the investment in every bit of RFID hardware and software will have been worth it.

Edson Perin is the editor of RFID Journal Brazil and the founder of Netpress Publisher.