Observations from NRF’s Big Show, Part 1

By Mark Roberti

The event showed how RFID technology providers are moving toward building more complete solutions.

Last week, I attended the National Retail Federation (NRF)'s Big Show, in New York City, as I have done annually for the past 15 years. My big takeaway this year is that radio frequency identification technology providers are moving rapidly toward building complete solutions, as opposed to selling just tags, readers or software, as most had done in the past.

Impinj was the first RFID hardware company to announce a software platform. The firm's ItemSense platform provides RFID data in a way that enables the information to be used by other application (see With ItemSense, Impinj Aims to Simplify 'Always On' RFID Deployments). In the Impinj booth, the company showed a demonstration in which item-level data was fed through ItemSense to SAP's Hybris software. When an attendee removed an item from a retail display, the inventory data was automatically updated in the SAP software. This kind of integration potentially makes it easier for retailers to deploy an RFID solution.

Zebra Technologies showed off its recently announced SmartSense for Retail system, which includes overhead RFID readers with video and micro-locationing features (see Zebra Launches RFID-enabled Overhead Sensor). The solution comes with software that can bring together multiple data streams and provide actionable data. Zebra showed how the system could track employees via handheld Zebra bar-code scanners or RFID readers. An associate at the booth walked around demonstrating how the solution updated the devices' locations in near-real time. Zebra plans to share an application programming interface with key partners so they can write applications using the data from the overhead sensors.

Mojix showed off its new Retail Task Management software, which enables store employees to view inventory and replenishment details on an iOS- or Android-based device, thereby making stock management easier (see Mojix's New Reader Antenna, App and Blockchain Aim for Real-Time Visibility). Mojix was in Microsoft's booth, demonstrating the Blockchain-enhanced version of its solution, which enables members of an enterprise supply chain—retailers, suppliers and logistics providers, for example—to view their transactions related to RFID tag reads via Blockchain-empowered smart contracts.

Smartrac Technologies offered an impressive demonstration of software that allows retailers to view inventory in near-real time across geographies. The company had a video wall in its booth, and it showed how one retailer could visualize stock levels in each location with bar graphs. The retailer could drill down by stock-keeping unit (SKU) and see how many blue T-shirts, for example, were at a given store, or with a given geographic region. The value of the data is that it enables retailers to respond quickly to shortages and prevent out-of-stocks.

Intel has been partnering with hardware manufacturers, software companies and systems integrators to create a complete solution around its Retail Sensor Platform (see Intel Unveils RFID System for Retailers). The company showed off a solution in partnership with Theatro, which makes a Wi-Fi-based communication system that allows store associates to communicate with one another or a host software system. During the demo, Intel's overhead RFID sensor platform could detect items that were in the wrong place or out of stock, and alert personnel—without requiring handheld readers or computers—that these issues needed to be addressed.

In addition, Tyco Retail Solutions, which makes software, announced a partnership to sell Zebra's handhelds. And Checkpoint Systems, which offers a popular retail software solution, showed off its tunnel reader, which it says can identify some 450,000 items per hour with 99 percent accuracy.

It's unclear which solutions the retail market will embrace, but the RFID industry is evolving to better meet the needs of customers. It will be a race to win customers and build critical mass. The company that does this will likely become the dominant player and propel the market to mass 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.