RFID’s Reputation Turns Positive

By Mark Roberti

A segment on Good Morning America about Target's Wonderland store in Manhattan portrays the technology in glowing terms.

In the early days of radio frequency identification (circa 2003 and 2004), the mainstream business press hyped RFID as the technology that would kill off the bar code and enable inventory to talk. I wrote many columns back then (when I was young and had no gray hair), tamping down expectations and saying that while RFID is a very powerful tool, it will not replace bar codes and is not a simple technology to deploy.

Then, in 2008, RFID fell into the chasm. The business press went hyper-negative about the technology. It doesn't work around water and metal. Read rates are only 60 percent. It's too expensive, too complex and so on. I wrote a lot of columns around this time saying that while the technology was not plug-and-play, it does work and can deliver value for many companies. Fortunately, many businesses listened and deployed successful solutions.

Now, there are so many successful deployments, particularly in apparel and department stores, that the mainstream media is talking positively about RFID again. I almost fell off my chair, in fact, when I saw a segment on Good Morning America (GMA) about Target's Wonderland pop-up store in Manhattan (see RFID Helps Target Transform Holiday Shopping Experience). It's called a pop-up because Target rented the space for only a limited stint; Wonderland will close on Dec. 22.

"Instead of a shopping cart, customers walk around with these—RFID-enabled keys— technology that lets you tap what you want to buy and automatically transmits it to a digital shopping cart," a voice-over explains.

Jeff Jones, Target's executive VP and chief marketing officer, appears on camera, saying, "I hope when you walk into a Target store in the future, it's as inspiring to shop as here, and it can be as easy as simply scanning your token."

Wonderland has a lot of cool stuff, including a giant Etch-A-Sketch and interactive video games that use motion-capture technology, but it's RFID that gets most of the attention in the GMA piece (as well as in online articles) about Target Wonderland. GMA interviewed Ashley Lutz, Business Insider's editor, for the story. Lutz tells the camera, "RFID technology will definitely take off. Retailers are going to use this to make the shopping experience more convenient." Even host Rebecca Garvison mentions RFID in a positive way.

To those new to the RFID industry, this might not seem like a big deal, but a few years ago, every article about the technology was negative, and many RFID companies were trying to say they were Internet of Things firms or sensor network businesses in order to avoid the negative connotations. The tide has finally turned, as I predicted it would, and RFID is now viewed as a technology that can deliver value. It's nice to see.

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.