Thoughts on RFID Journal LIVE! 2019

The conference and exhibition, which reflects the state of the RFID industry, shows that there is a lot of growth—and some challenges ahead.
Published: April 9, 2019

RFID Journal LIVE! has always been an event that reflects the state of radio frequency identification adoption and the health of the RFID industry. So each year, I try to express my perceptions of the conference and what it means for the RFID industry, and for the technology’s users.

This year’s LIVE! event was held in Phoenix, Ariz. There were many Fortune 500 companies present, including American Airlines, Apple, Boeing, Cardinal Health, Centene, Comcast, Exxon Mobile, General Electric, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Merck, Nike, Verizon and Walmart. The executives from some of these companies with whom I spoke were well-informed and excited about the value RFID is bringing to their business.

Some of these firm have been using RFID for years, and they are now confident enough to expand their rollouts. The sales cycle for RFID products is often long and arduous, as companies figure out how to recognize its benefits. Yet this year, we saw more contracts being signed and business being booked than ever before. One exhibitor sent an email to an attendee to arrange a meeting, and it resulted in a $130,000 contract before they ever shook hands.

One reason for this acceleration is that RFID is becoming easier to deploy. Some of the companies that have introduced simpler solutions—readers that are more plug-and-play, for example—did very well. What’s more, there appears to be more meaningful development of channel relationships. For example, Avery Dennison hosted a workshop for label converters and packaging manufacturers. It was standing-room-only, which is a sign that the industry is maturing.

Year over year, we have noticed a slight decline in the total number of exhibitors, as well as the number of staff members per exhibitor booth. This signals, in my mind, that some exhibitors are struggling. In fact, two companies that paid for booths wound up not manning them, which is usually indicative of financial issues.

This could mean investments in smaller, one-off projects have slowed down, or it could perhaps be the result of fears of a slowing economy. It could also signal that companies are not executing a targeted marketing strategy. It’s no coincidence that the firms demonstrating growth—such as Avery Dennison, HID Global, NXP Semiconductors, Smartrac, SML and Zebra Technologies—are the same ones that actively market their event presence and reach out to customers prior to the conference to arrange meetings. Even without a dedicated marketing team, the smaller companies that apply some level of pre-show promotion effort realize an advantage over those that assume marketing will take care of itself.

A great highlight of LIVE! 2019 was seeing end-user case studies and presentations. The keynote addresses by Daimler and BAE Systems are particularly worth watching. The scale of these projects is impressive and shows that RFID is now part of mission-critical systems at several companies.

In retail, RFID appears to be nearing the tipping point. Dr. Bill Hardgrave, the founder of the Auburn University RFID Lab, said in his keynote presentation that 60 percent of the top 100 apparel retailers have now deployed RFID in at least some of their stores—and that approximately 20 percent of all apparel items are now tagged. I guess that’s why he titled his session: “Resistance Is Futile: Embracing the Inevitable Use of RFID in Apparel Retail.” It may not be long before the same can be said for other industries.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.