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Has RFID Finally Found Its Place in Retail?

RFID technology is finally taking off in retail—in fact, it's being put to use in a variety of ways, some of which might just surprise you.
By Darya Shmat

Enhancing the Customer Experience With RFID
Perhaps, if omnichannel retail had emerged much earlier than it did, the use of RFID would be more widespread today. It's almost as if RFID was once a technology too far ahead of its time, and that recent changes in the retail environment have exposed its true potential. That potential extends from inventory management and visibility to applications in customer experience enhancement, crime prevention and cashless in-store payment.

It helps of course, that an RFID device (tag) can be attached or built in to just about anything—a fact not lost on forward-thinking enterprises experimenting with RFID-powered customer relationship management. In fact, in April 2019, Swiss outdoor brand Mammut announced its latest RFID initiative that is set to redefine both its supply chain management and customer experiences (see Mammut Uses NFC to Engage Customers). With the new technology, the company is hoping to raise the bar of its point-of-sale service and add value to customer interactions with the ability to uplift loyalty programs and feedback processing long after the purchase.

A New Way to Pique Consumers' Appetites
RFID is finding more innovative use cases. As shown in Accenture's "2018 RFID in Retail Study," 27 percent of the companies named "pressure to enhance personalized marketing" as one of their top challenges that they hoped to address by adopting RFID.

For this, retail brands set up RFID-powered loyalty programs, using tags built into loyalty cards or attached to members' phones. These tags alert staff members when loyalty program members enter the retailers' outlets, allowing sales associates to call up sales histories, welcome customers personally and make recommendations based on their previous purchases.

RFID in Provenance and Profit Protection
Retail shrinkage, which includes losses from shoplifting and employee theft, reached a total of 1.33 percent of sales in 2018, according to the National Retail Federation. In this light, some retailers are turning to RFID technology as a way to combat theft, a task for which the technology is particularly well suited. Vastly superior to the Sensormatic tags used by most retailers, RFID tags can be used in the same way—to set off an alarm if an unpaid-for item passes through the exit door—but also to provide real-time intelligence as to what that item exactly is.

However, theft isn't the only security issue that RFID tags and readers can help to thwart. In the apparel and fashion sector, counterfeit products are a huge issue, making up almost half of the global counterfeit industry. High-end retailers are responding with RFID tagging at the source to prove product authenticity and combat counterfeiting. This is being made possible by the latest developments in tag construction, which gives manufacturers the ability to produce tags that can withstand being washed and dry-cleaned, and just about anything else which might happen to an item of clothing after purchase.

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