How to Grow the RFID Market, Part 1

By Mark Roberti

There is only one way to do it, which is to convert one company at a time until we achieve critical mass.

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Companies that sell radio frequency identification technologies often ask me how we can get more businesses interested in using RFID. This relates to my column last week, titled RFID Fantasies. Vendors would like there to be a magic bullet—something that we can say or do that will propel adoption.

In my experience, however, there is no magic bullet. Geoffrey Moore says as much in “Crossing the Chasm” and “Inside the Tornado,” his seminal works on how new technologies are adopted.

I speak at many events in a wide variety of industries about the benefits RFID can deliver. Most people whom I meet at these events understand basically what RFID is and what it can do, but in many cases, their perception of the technology lags behind reality. They think Walmart pulled the plug on its case- and pallet-tagging efforts because the technology doesn’t work. But that view has begun to change as people read about retailers such as Kohl’s, Macy’s, Marks & Spencer and Zara using RFID on a large scale (see Kohl’s Rolls Out RFID for Select Product Categories at Its Stores, Macy’s Expands RFID and Beacon Deployments, Marks & Spencer Leads the Way and Inditex CEO Announces RFID Expansion Plans).

Not long ago, I spoke to a group of hospital executives who were in charge of managing medical equipment. I was shocked at how much they knew about how RFID could improve asset-utilization rates, as well as eliminate time wasted by nurses searching for oxygen pumps and wheelchairs. But not one of them planned to encourage their hospitals to use an RFID-based real-time location system.

Geoffrey Moore opened my eyes to why companies won’t deploy a technology they know could benefit them: It can be risky to invest in new technologies until everyone is doing it. Once others are aboard, it becomes the safe thing to do.

Until RFID becomes “safe,” technology providers must sell solutions to companies that have a business problem serious enough for them to take a risk on a relatively new technology. One success story helps a solution provider to sell to others. Getting these case studies exposed is critical, which is why RFID Journal expends so much effort on speaking to end users for almost every story we publish, and on having end users speak at our online and face-to-face events.

In fact, American Apparel invested in RFID after an executive from the company (Zander Livingston, who when on to create his own RFID company) attended one of our events in New York (see American Apparel Deploys Real-Time, Storewide RFID Inventory-Management Solution). Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, two retailers now rolling out RFID, first attended our RFID in Fashion events in New York. Kohl’s attended a conference hosted by the Item Level RFID Initiative. Cisco deployed its IT asset-tracking solution after listening to a webinar in which Bank of America talked about its IT asset-tracking solution (see Bank of America Deploys RFID in Data Centers). Each successful deployment, once it is made public, leads to more deployments.

I personally spend a lot of time answering end users’ questions and trying to steer them to the right solution provider. I feel that each person I can help deploy a solution successfully also helps to grow the overall market, getting RFID one small step closer to the tipping point.

Unfortunately, many vendors don’t think the same way. They are focused on the fantasies I described last week, and not on solving problems for people actually seeking an RFID solution. Venders will go to events where RFID is not the focus, and then have no time or resources to reach out to those attending RFID events. They will spend time sending messages to people on LinkedIn, while ignoring end users who log into RFID Connect to find products. They will spend effort to write their own blogs, but not respond to readers who post questions on RFID blogs.

I realize that not all of the companies researching RFID will wind up deploying a solution. Sometimes RFID is not the right solution, and sometimes a user decides the problem is not serious enough to warrant the investment. But I believe—based on my interaction with our readers—that if the RFID industry were doing a better job of marketing the technology to people who are actually looking for solutions, the industry would be twice as large as it is today—and much closer to mass adoption.

In two weeks, I’ll explain what else RFID companies must do to propel adoption.

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.