Editor’s Note: Reflections on NRF from the RFID World

Published: January 18, 2024

The use of RFID was front and center at the convention. But questions about AI is the thing that stayed with me the most

RFID and AI.

At the 2024 National Retail Federation (NRF) expo in New York City this past week, those were the two buzzwords that were heard (and sent to our inboxes) over and over again.

When RFID was uttered, the next word inevitable was “shrinkage”—a nice way to describe theft. Retailers are embracing the technology as it helps combat product loss in three different areas: return fraud, stealing from the front of the store and theft in the backroom.

While the first two get most of the attention in print and broadcast news, the untold story it is the backroom where retailers are seeing their biggest gains in stopping inventory loss.

Increased use of RFID allows for the tracking of goods from central locations to the store. There is no more “it never arrived” excuses by backroom employees. Companies have the ability to track their goods at all times and, in turn, their employees that are stealing.

Additionally, RFID is shaping how retailers react from the goods that are stolen from the showroom floor. Store managers are increasingly staying away from confrontations inside or at the front of their stores when a theft is committed due to the ability to have an RFID tag help them retrieve the goods as well as press charges on those committing theft.

Another RFID use is the emerging frictionless shopping movement. Retailers want to move customers through the store quicker, such as the EXO Checkout system used at TD Garden in Boston. Big box stores are actively pursuing ways that RFID-tagged products allow for scanning the whole bag, basket or cart all at once instead of each individual item separately.

But the one that I wrestled with the most is the use of the word of artificial intelligence (AI). Seemingly ubiquitous on the exhibition floor, all you heard or saw walking by nearly every booth was a new AI function they were adding or introducing to their products.

Which raises these two question: What is AI? And how should we define AI?

The answer to those questions depended on who you talked to at the show. Marketers would talk about its new uses that improves their products—such as GenAI chatbots. They promise AI will usher in a new generation of solutions as well as improve the customer experience.

But in meeting with those more closely connected to the RFID Journal community, they say they shudder when they hear the tsunami of AI claims heard on the West Side of New York City this week. The term AI was described as being used too broadly for marketing purposes instead of its more scientific benefits.

In the next year, we here at RFID Journal want to explore what AI is and isn’t, as well as how and why it is being used. We will do that this through reporting. But more importantly, we want to hear your voice. I am encouraging our readers to offer their opinions to be published to further this discussion.