Observations from NRF’s Big Show 2019, Part II

RFID companies showed off some impressive solutions, rather than just products.
Published: January 28, 2019

Read the first part of this column here.

I had the opportunity to visit the booths of most of the RFID companies exhibiting at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show 2019. My key takeaway from the event was that RFID companies are finally starting to offer integrated solutions rather than just tags, readers or software. Here’s a look at some of what was exhibited by those companies, in alphabetical order.

Avery Dennison: The RFID inlay and solution provider has done a remarkable job of providing tags that work on a wide variety of products, including metal cookware, cosmetics and even food you can put in a microwave oven. These tags were on full display at its booth. Avery Dennison also hosted Wiliot, which makes a passive, battery-free Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensor tag (see Wiliot Unveils Passive Bluetooth Sensor). Avery recently invested in Wiliot.

In addition, Avery was promoting its Freshmarx solution for food labeling, food safety and compliance, and RFID inventory management (see Avery Dennison Provides RFID System for Food Management). The system includes a printer for labeling food products, handheld product labels, inventory-management and temperature-tracking capabilities, and software that runs on a tablet—in other words, it’s a fully integrated solution. Avery says restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores can use the Freshmarx solution to help ensure food safety, increase efficiency, save money, reduce waste and enhance the consumer experience.

Checkpoint Systems: The maker of electronic article surveillance and RFID systems showed off its HALO platform. HALO is a software and hardware solution that collects data from portal, handheld and overhead readers, then auto-generates alerts that can be sent to store associates and supply chain workers in order to improve operational efficiency and drive productivity gains. Store personnel might receive alerts on their handheld units indicating, for example, that they need to perform back-stocking, or alerts could be issued throughout the supply chain and in-store, thereby improving productivity in receiving, back-stocking and restocking high-demand products. This could help to ensure that sales aren’t lost.

Impinj: The passive UHF RFID chip and reader manufacturer showed off its full array of portal and overhead readers, as well as the data they can collect and the applications they can drive. Impinj also showecased a new embedded tagging solution for fashion and sport brands, which it developed with r-pac International and TexTrace. The Woven Soft and Brand Labels, which use Impinj’s Monza R6-P chip, allow an RFID transponder to be sewn directly into either a garment care label or a brand label, enabling more creative and flexible tagging options for manufacturers (see Textrace Unveils New Woven RFID Brand Label With Impinj Monza R6-P).

Sensormatic: Tyco Retail Solutions announced that it had changed its name to Sensormatic—which, of course, is the brand under which Tyco sold its EAS tags. The company showcased a variety of demonstrations illustrating how RFID can be used to locate specific items, count inventory, enable “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) and “pick to the last unit,” and so on. Sensormatic is now offering its TruVue software-as-a-service, and is integrating its RFID, ShopperTrak and security solutions into a unified platform for retailers.

SML Group: The label and retail software provider has been on a roll lately. It showed off its Clarity software, which is being used by retailers around the world to manage store inventory, replenishment and other operational tasks, as well as its new GB5U8 RFID inlay. Measuring 42 millimeters by 24 millimeters, the GB5U8 is designed for item-level inventory management and loss prevention, and can be used for such retail market segments as apparel, accessories, cosmetics, eyewear, homeware and sporting goods (see SML RFID Intros New Inlay for Inventory Management, Loss Prevention).

SML also announced that fashion retailer Matalan has deployed SML’s Clarity RFID solution across all 220 of its stores in the United Kingdom to enhance its inventory accuracy and deliver on the omnichannel model to improve the shopping experience. In-store staff members will be able to provide a better customer experience by using real-time stock enquiry and search-find functionalities. The system utilizes more than 900 handheld terminals from Zebra Technologies, with an Android touch computer across the estate, and the data is stored in Microsoft’s Azure Cloud platform.

Smartrac: The UHF and NFC label and software provider displayed a variety of its RFID labels for different applications. Most impressive was a demonstration by one of its customers. Swiss outdoor brand Mammut showed a backpack and winter ski jacket with embedded NFC transponders from Smartrac and a dedicated smartphone app, known as Mammut Connect. When the smartphone is tapped on a product’s NFC touch point, it delivers digital content and services to customers throughout the product’s lifetime, while also supporting retail channels with in-depth product information to enhance the sales process.

Zebra Technologies: The handheld, fixed and overhead RFID reader maker displayed a fully integrated BOPIS solution with RFID-enabled lockers. For the demo, a Zebra employee took inventory of a shelf full of T-shirts of varying colors and sizes. A visitor to the booth was asked to “buy” an item via a smartphone app. The “store associate” quickly found the item using the Zebra handheld unit’s Geiger counter function, which makes the unit beep more quickly as it gets closer to the RFID tag of the item in question.

Once located, that item is tagged with a second RFID tag containing the order information. When the tag is interrogated via a locker fixture with an embedded RFID reader, the system accesses the cloud and checks the dimensions of the item purchased, after which an appropriate-sized locker opens. An employee can then put the item inside the locker and close it, and the customer who bought the item can either wave an RFID-enabled loyalty card in front of the locker’s reader or scan a QR code delivered via a smartphone app. The locker containing that person’s item opens automatically, and he or she can retrieve his or her purchase.

As NRF’s Big Show clearly demonstrated, the RFID industry is moving toward providing solutions that solve problems for retailers and others. In my opinion, this is a healthy sign.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.