Latest Warehouse Technology Study Sees RFID Growth Ahead

Published: October 10, 2023

Zebra Technologies’ Warehousing Vision Study finds operators optimistic about growth ahead, pairing RFID with machine learning and related technology.

A new study by Zebra Technologies Corporation has found that 60 percent of warehouse managers surveyed intend to deploy UHF RFID at their facilities in the next five years. Deployments will include handheld – as well as portal or other fixed reader – installations to track the movement and storage of goods.

The study highlights a trend in the logistics industry this year, in which warehouses are no longer increasing their square footage or adding new sites (as they were last year) but instead looking to technology to improve efficiency, says Andre Luecht, Zebra Technologies’ Transport, Logistics, and Warehousing strategy lead.

Zebra’s Warehousing Vision Study was conducted online in March and April 2023 by third-party research firm Azure Knowledge Corporation. It includes feedback from 1,400 decision-makers and associates who manage and maintain warehouse operations in manufacturing, retail, transportation, logistics, and wholesale distribution across North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

The 2023 study is the latest in annual surveys of warehouse decision-makers and their associates. (See Warehouse Survey Finds Management Ready to Adopt Technology,

The study aimed to learn the challenges such companies face and the technology solutions they are deploying or planning to deploy. That includes sensors, robotics, as well as passive UHF RFID.

Focusing on Technology for Efficiency, Automation

This year’s survey found warehouse managers feeling optimistic about a return to previous favorable growth rates and looking to technology to meet customer demands for greater visibility and efficiency, Luecht says.

Since last year, the square footage of warehouses has dropped by 2,378 square meters on average, and the number of facilities has declined by an average of 2.4 between 2022 and 2023. Yet modernization plans are a priority, with 73 percent indicating they will accelerate their project timelines. In addition, 69 percent said they are already increasing funding for existing warehouse modernization plans or planning to do so.

While previous studies have found growth in automation technology ahead for the warehouse market, this one was the first to see RFID alone growing at a significant rate.

While 32 percent of warehouse leaders say they are already using RFID technology, another 39 percent say they will use it in the next year, and 19 percent aim to accomplish that within five years.

Handheld reader adoption has risen from 30 percent this year to 71 percent next year. Fixed RFID readers will be adopted by 67 percent of respondents, up from 30 percent this year. And 64 percent of those surveyed say they intend to use the technology with machine vision to automate processes in their warehouses better.

Returns management was identified as a top operational challenge for almost half of the warehouse management (a 10 percent increase over the previous year), followed by order accuracy and outbound processes. Decision makers, as well as associates, also called both inaccurate inventories and out-of-stock significant challenges. In addition, 76 percent of warehouse leaders said they were under pressure to improve performance as consumer and customer demand increased.

This year, 69 percent of those queried say they have been automating their workflows or plan to do so by next year. Half said they believe automation, provided by RFID and other technology, will increase work efficiency and productivity by reducing the need to pick and correct orders manually.

Additionally, 80 percent of those queried said they feel using more technology and automation in general will help them meet or exceed their productivity goals.

Warehouse Associates Embrace Technology

The study found that 88 percent of management felt technology could help them retain their employees. The survey also queried warehouse workers, who (at a rate of eight out of 10) reported feeling more valued when their employers provide them with technology.

That was an unexpected result, says Luecht. “We asked not only the managerial staff but also the shop floor associates – the people who perform the labor (about technology use).” He comments that he was surprised by their response. “My hypothesis would have been that some of those folks would be concerned about their jobs with the advent of new technology.” Instead, the survey found that they support new technology deployment as it removes non-value-adding or strenuous tasks.

Associates believed that automated identification and robotic systems could help reduce repetitive, strenuous, or dangerous work while enabling workers to focus on the more human-centric tasks onsite.

Other trends identified by the survey include software’s role in improving data management and related functions. Fifty-two percent of management respondents said they plan to deploy machine learning, and 59 percent intend to include predictive analytics in their software solutions by 2028.

Another rising focus for warehouse management is sustainability; 77 percent of those surveyed said they focus on reducing emissions and waste to meet regulations and reduce energy costs and shortages. Eighty percent of the decision-makers said they also need their technology to maximize battery life, highlighting the need for energy-efficient solutions.

According to Luecht, the overall positive outlook of the warehouse market was another key takeaway. “There’s an anticipation of growth that you can see,” he says, “and everyone seems to be investing in technology that makes another scale-up possible.”

Many warehousing companies using RFID attach tags to their transport equipment, such as metal cages. In that way, they can identify those cages and the products inside them with RFID tag reads.

In the long term, the increased rate of source tagging (by brands applying RFID tags to each new product for inventory tracking) could enable some warehouses to leverage the existing tags on products as they arrive at the site.

For Zebra, the studies each year help identify the technology preferences of the market. “We have a well-developed RFID portfolio, and it helps us (and Zebra partners) position ourselves.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Zebra’s Warehouse Vision survey finds warehouse operators bullish about RFID and related technologies to gain efficiencies in receiving, storing, and shipping goods.
  • Workers surveyed also indicated that, rather than being distrustful of technology, they feel RFID and other automation technologies will improve their work experience.