When ‘Spyware’ Is A Great Thing.

In a recent survey of American retailers fifty seven per cent said they were currently implementing RFID (radio frequency identification) systems, a further nineteen per cent said that they would complete their RFID systems this year and a further ten per cent would complete their rollout within two years. That’s a staggering eighty six per cent of all retailers in the United States. Currently more than forty seven per cent of all items that run through recognised logistics systems in America carry RFID tags.

After nearly twenty years of talking about this technology, the U.S. is very close to delivering relatively ‘full coverage’ and that will push rapid worldwide adoption of the technology and a dramatic reduction in costs.

Blanket coverage RFID will redraw the lines of visibility of goods for suppliers, retailers and consumers and change a great deal of the way retail operates – for the better. What can widespread RFID enable? Real time tracking from factory gate to consumption. Complete visibility of stock at any point in the supply chain. Store out of stock and auto replenishment in real time. Real-time sell-through. Consumer search-ability for product availability in store – both physical and virtual – across an infinite array of customisable or personally relevant criteria.

This is the kind of ‘spyware’ technology that will create added value convenience simply through visibility of the cornerstone of retail – distribution.

It will also have an additional benefit in making shrink visible by allowing tracking of where and when – exactly – in the supply chain the items ‘disappeared’.

It is one of the few technology applications that at this point in time demonstrate very few unintended negative consequences. It doesn’t kill jobs and it should be revenue positive. On the contrary, the adoption of RFID technology could lead to all sorts of innovation. Imagine point of sale digital displays ability to fire off content based on delivery in store or on shelf of new merchandise or a countdown clock based on items left on the shelf.

These are simple examples of what the real-time identification and tracking of items could do to change the way a retail environment and a customer relationship could work. RFID tags can also be embedded in customer identification cards for those that don’t want to nominate their mobile phone numbers for tracking their visitation and purchase activity.

It’s a great technology that is simple, non-invasive and value adding. When you think about how many far more costly ‘shiny new toys’ in the technology field have eaten up I.T. budgets and failed to deliver anything of real value and added to complexity, you have to wonder why RFID has taken so long to ‘herd the cats’ into adopting. The obvious advantages are huge and more will follow. And it is less than two years away.

Now is the time to start planning how to take advantage of it for the benefit of your business and your customers.