End Users’ Perceptions of RFID Catch Up With Reality

By Mark Roberti

Unfortunately, now it is the solution providers who don't see what's really going on.


I spent several years (2009 to 2012) explaining to many solution providers that the end-user perception of radio frequency identification technology lagged reality. I made the argument—based on feedback I received from the many end users I met when speaking at conferences or casual readers of RFID Journal who contacted me—that the vast majority of businesspeople assumed RFID didn’t work and didn’t deliver any business benefits, even though this was not true.

I said the mainstream business press, which once claimed RFID would put bar codes out of business and transform the global supply chain, had latched on to the story that tags couldn’t be read consistently. And when Wal-mart and others backed off plans to mandate the use of RFID by their partners (opting instead for a more collaborative and business-driven approach), the perception took hold that there were no business benefits. For the most part, the fact that Wal-mart was still using the technology went unreported at that time.

I told solution providers they needed to keep getting good case stories published so we could change that perception. That perceptual change has now happened. End users no longer think RFID doesn’t work or that there are no benefits. I know this to be true because of conversations I had with end users prior to and during RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 (see Reflections on RFID Journal LIVE! 2013). I also know this based on the many questions end users submit by to our Ask the Experts forum .

Two weeks ago, in my editor’s note, I said the volume of questions has increased significantly. The nature of the questions is also changing. The questions are no longer from students asking technical questions about how to write to a tag, or from people concerned about their privacy. I rarely get asked whether tags can be read consistently or whether RFID is too expensive to deliver benefits.

Today, many of the questions are about specific applications, such as tracking harnesses and shackles or using RFID in subzero freezers, or what type of RFID technology is needed to integrate RFID and social media at events.

And many questions are from potential end users asking for recommendations. Consider, for example, these recent questions: Where Can I Find RFID Solution Providers? Where Can I Obtain RFID Technology in India? What Are the Most Popular RFID Solutions for Tracking Data-Center Assets? Who Are the Leading Providers of Active Wi-Fi RFID Systems? Where Can I Find a Supplier of High-Memory Tag Inlays?

I answer these questions as best as I can. But I can’t help wondering why solution providers aren’t connecting with end users so they wouldn’t have to direct these questions to RFID Journal.

It now seems to be the solution providers whose perception lags reality. Many advertised for years and got little business from their efforts. I know two large companies that teamed up and put an advertising supplement in the Financial Times a few years ago and got exactly no leads from it. The conclusion many vendors have drawn is that there is no point to advertising.

While it is true that those who read the mainstream business press probably aren’t ready to invest, there are clearly a growing number of companies researching RFID technology and they are ready to invest. In fact, one obstacle for them is they just don’t know who offers the solutions they need. In many cases, they don’t even know if such a solution exists.

The next few years are going to be critical to determining the winners and losers in the RFID space. The smart companies will be the ones that do targeted advertising designed to reach a specific segment of those researching RFID today. The companies that fail will be the ones that are slow to realize the market is changing and don’t expand their marketing budgets to compete for new customers.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.