RFID Industry Shows New Life

Last week's RFID Journal LIVE! had a different vibe—one that says the technology is now viewed as an important tool for improving business operations.
Published: May 26, 2022

The radio frequency identification industry has experienced numerous setbacks throughout the years. It was starting to gain momentum in 2008, but then the financial collapse caused many companies to pull the plug on projects. Then, as the industry started coming back, patent lawsuits slapped on users, such as Walmart and John Deere, caused many businesses to back away from the technology yet again. The industry was picking up a third time when the global pandemic hit. But last week’s RFID Journal LIVE! event showed that the pandemic has actually accelerated interest in adopting RFID and other Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

Mark RobertiInterest in RFID Is High

The event was smaller than usual, as many overseas exhibitors and attendees were unable to participate. But there was tremendous energy and excitement that could be felt throughout the three days. Attendees were extremely engaged and had clear ideas about what they want to do with the technology.

During the first two days of the event, I walked around the hall as I always do, intending to say hello and thank exhibitors for support. I didn’t talk to anyone, however, because they were engaged with potential customers. It was only on the third day of the conference that I was able to speak to a couple of exhibitors, and they seemed extremely pleased with the turnout and the quality of the conversations they were having.

Rollouts Are Increasing

Each year, GS1 US and the Auburn University RFID Lab host an invitation-only luncheon for retailers and their suppliers during the conference. This year, we had some new faces (Apple and Amazon were notable), and the conversations were interesting. I can’t share anything I heard, as that is one of the ground rules of the luncheon, but I can say the discussions were about rolling out the technology, not about whether or not RFID delivers value. It was a given that it does.

I spoke to one consultant who works with many different retailers, and he said, “It is amazing how many retailers are moving [rolling out RFID] all at once.” So, it’s not just Walmart and Nordstrom that are deploying RFID in stores. Other retailers are doing so as well. Justin Patton, the Auburn RFID Lab’s director, estimates that about 20 percent of all apparel is currently tagged. He believes that when that number hits 35 percent or so, that will be the tipping point for all retailers to start using the technology.

Mass Adoption Is Imminent

Mass adoption of RFID in apparel retail is close, maybe a year or two (or three) away. From apparel, the technology will spread to automotive, electronics, health and beauty, sporting goods and other retail sectors. Mass adoption across all of retail will lead to lower prices and better products, which will propel adoption of RFID in other sectors.

It’s an exciting time for the radio frequency identification industry. Let’s just hope something else doesn’t come along to slow its momentum.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.