What Metro Knows

By Mark Roberti

Sometimes, I look at what's going on in a specific industry or market, or even within specific companies, and I just scratch my head.

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Lots of European companies say, “EPC is not ready for primetime. UHF technology doesn’t work well in Europe. We’ll wait until the technology is more mature.” (See Europe Embraces EPC—Slowly.)

And then you have Metro, the world’s fourth-largest retailer, investing time, money and precious resources to do as much as it can with RFID today (see Metro Is Back on Track).

The question I ask myself is: How do smart businesspeople looking at the same technology in the same geographic region come to such markedly different views?

Of course, every company’s situation is unique, and so it’s perhaps not that surprising that each would have a unique perspective on RFID and other new technologies. Still, I can’t help but feel that Metro knows something others don’t. Or maybe I should put it another way: Metro has a more enlightened view of RFID.

Nearly all major companies understand that RFID is going to be an important technology. Most assume that they won’t lose any competitive advantage by adopting the technology a year or two (or more) later than their competitors.

What Metro gets is that even if RFID doesn’t provide a permanent competitive advantage (any company can adopt the technology), being among the earliest adopters has several major benefits. Metro’s investment in RFID will improve its supply chain over the next few years, and has already improved the retailer’s image globally. The company has been on television all over Europe, talking about its RFID efforts, and journalists around the world have covered its pioneering work. That publicity is beneficial to the company today as Metro positions itself as one of a handful of global retailers.

The messages Metro is getting across to consumers is that it is using RFID to enhance the shopping experience-as well as improve supply-chain efficiency. There’s a big difference between saying to your customers: “Hey, we care about you and want to make our stores better for you, so we’re investing in this new technology” and saying “Hey, we care about you, and that’s why we’re adopting this technology that others have already implemented for their customers.”

Not all companies have taken a big-picture view of RFID, but more are becoming savvy about the technology. In this issue, we report on end users of RFID that are making strategic investments in RFID vendors (see Getting a Return on [Strategic] Investments). The packaging industry is starting to invest real resources in developing ways to embed RFID transponders in packaging. In this issue’s Vertical Focus, we look at those sometimes-fitful efforts (see Thinking Inside the Box).

Time will tell whether Metro and others embracing RFID are right, or those that wait and see prove to be the wise ones. But I know which companies I’d bet on.