RFID the Hot Topic at Retail Show

By Bob Violino

Interest in RFID was high during the opening day of Retail Systems 2003/VICS Collaborative Commerce event in Chicago, as vendors showed off new systems.


June 11, 2003 – It’s 4:32 PM on a breezy afternoon in Chicago. Bill Allen is sitting at a table in a small theater set up on the show floor of Retail Systems 2003/VICS Collaborative Commerce, a major retail technology event. The 40 or so chairs are filled, and people are standing on the sides and along the back of the theater. Many are scribbling notes.

Allen is the head of marketing for Texas Instruments’ RFID products, and he’s telling the attentive group about a pilot that The Gap ran using TI’s products. “The store that was RFID-enabled saw a 15 percent increase in sales, because they knew where the product was within the store,” Allen says.

Over at the Matrics booth a hundred feet away, a steady stream of people are coming by to see the company demonstrate how a portal reader can scan more than 100 tags as a cart loaded with tagged items is rolled passed a set of RFID antennas.

RFID was clearly the hot topic on the opening day (June 10) of Retail Systems 2003/VICS Collaborative Commerce. The event is co-located with RFID Journal Live!, the inaugural executive conference of RFID Journal. Vendors said that many people visiting the booths were asking about RFID technology.

Much of the buzz has been stimulated by the expectation that Wal-Mart CIO Linda Dillman, who is speaking today, will announce that Wal-Mart will mandate that its top 100 suppliers put RFID tags on pallets and cases delivered to the retailer after Jan. 1, 2005. A Wal-Mart executive declined to confirm that or deny the report.

Nevertheless, it was clear that RFID has caught the attention of retailers, suppliers and technology vendors. Microsoft announced that it is joining Auto-ID Inc., saying it will develop software for RFID applications. Microsoft has been in talks with the Auto-ID Center for months. It is interested in not just supplying software, but also tracking its Xbox, which has been a hit with gamers.

Many other vendors showed off products or potential products. PSC and CheckPoint Systems demonstrated a smart shelf and a self-checkout device that reads both bar codes and RFID tags. Zebra Technologies displayed a range of RFID/bar code label printers. And SAP showed a video of the RFID software infrastructure it provided for Metro’s future store in Germany.

The focus on RFID will continue all week. RFID Journal Live! kicks off on Wednesday with a keynote speech by Marks & Spencer, which is presented jointly with Retail Systems. RFID Journal Live! has already exceeded its expected attendance by nearly 50 percent.

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