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Observations from NRF's Big Show, Part 2

RFID is gaining mindshare among retail technology providers, as well as more end users.
By Mark Roberti
Jan 29, 2017

Read part one of this article here.

It would be a gross exaggeration to claim that radio frequency identification was the story at the National Retail Federation (NRF)'s annual Big Show conference and exhibition, held earlier this month. But having attended virtually every NRF event for the past 15 years, I think it's fair to say that RFID was more noticeable than ever before.

Years ago, when RFID was still in the early stages of the Gartner hype cycle—meaning it was being hyped—vendors such as Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP all offered demonstrations of the technology at their booths. Then, when RFID moved into the Trough of Disillusionment (or the chasm, if you prefer Geoffrey Moore's term), RFID virtually disappeared from the big booths at NRF.

This year, for the first time, it was back. IBM had a small area featuring RFID, as did Intel, SAP and Microsoft (Intel has included RFID technology at its booth for the past three years). The one outlier was Oracle, at whose booth I didn't see any RFID demos. One person working at the booth, in fact, told me, "RFID has never come up when I'm on a sales call with a retailer."

I didn't get the sense that attendees were intensely interested in these RFID demos. There seemed to be a greater awareness of the technology among those in attendance, but the vast majority of retailers still don't seem to understand the value that RFID delivers.

There was a lot of interest in data analytics and omnichannel solutions, but it's hard to see how off-the-shelf solutions will deliver much value if a retailer is not using RFID. I noticed one kiosk demo, for example, at which customers were able to order products in a store and have it brought out for them to buy. "The kiosk will tell you if the item is out of stock and recommend a similar item," the person performing the demo said.

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