RFID’s Dirty Little Secret

By Ari Juels

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Sure RFID heralds great savings and efficiencies in the supply chain, and offers companies the opportunity to learn more about their customers. But make no mistake—in the long term, doing business is going to be tougher than ever. That’s because the technology will put more power in the hands of the consumer. This is the dirty little secret no one in the industry talks about.

Today, anyone can spend a few minutes online and learn the latest prices of almost anything, get reviews of the best products and even find out which companies provide the most reliable after-sales service. As a result, companies are working harder to maintain customer loyalty. When RFID becomes as common as bar codes on consumer items, it will be another tool people can use to get the best product at the lowest price.

A shoppers will be able to go into a supermarket and scan items with an RFID reader built into his handheld computer, record prices and store the information. Then, he could repeat this act in the next store he visits. A software application on the computer will compare prices and indicate which store offered better value. Shopping bots for the physical world.

And RFID will put infinitely more information about products at consumers’ fingertips. If meat is tracked from the stable to the table, it could be possible to scan an RFID tag on a package of steaks and find out which cow they came from. Information stored in an online database might even indicate what farm the cow was from, what it was fed and where it was slaughtered. When sensors become less expensive and more widely used, consumers could learn if the meat was exposed to higher-than-acceptable temperatures.

Companies with poor execution or second-rate products will be at a huge competitive disadvantage. And those that think that they can use RFID to secretly track consumer behavior just might wind up with the tables turned, as consumers use RFID to track their behavior.