What makes RFID beneficial to your business?
Date: July 29, 2015
Category: Opinion piece
Barcodes help retailers and manufacturers manage their inventory. RFID helps them do it better.
The barcode has been used in retail for over 40 years – saving the industry billions. For a relatively new technology like RFID to supplement or even replace it, there have to be real provable benefits. Within inventory management, particularly in the apparel sector, it’s clear that RFID now offers these benefits.
What does a barcode do?
It’s worth thinking about the role a barcode plays in your business in order to determine its value in comparison to an alternative data carrier.
The different widths and spaces of a barcode represent numbers and letters. Retailers, manufacturers and distributors scan a barcode instead of keying a number at various points of a products lifecycle. The absence of manual keying has irrefutable cost savings in labour time and increases the accuracy of inventory management. The identifier that the barcode represents acts as a key, allowing you to link information held in a database. When data is captured through a scan it is recorded and used to prompt further action.
With this in mind, there are a number of characteristics we can use to compare barcodes with other technologies in order to determine whether or not it offers a retailer a relative competitive advantage:
- Scanability – how easy is it to capture the identification number of the product?
- Read rate – how many products can you identify in a defined period of time?
- Labour – how much human involvement is required?
- Durability – how likely is the carrier to become unreadable?
- Security – how difficult is it to replicate the carrier?
- Data– how much data can be stored and communicated?
- Events – what actions can be triggered by the capture of the data?
- Cost – of course!
Line of sight
We’ve all spent a Saturday afternoon or two standing in a queue, whilst a sales assistant fumbles to line up the barcode on their swing ticket to scan – always when you’re in a rush. Line of sight is crucial for the barcode to be read. This means a barcode has to be presented to the scanner in a specific way, a task that requires a certain level of human labour and limits the achievable read rate.
RFID on the other hand, as we’ve previously discussed, doesn’t need line of sight. This means items can be orientated in any direction. This increases the read rate 100 fold.
So that’s a relative advantage for RFID in scannability, read rate and human labour.
Going back to our Saturday afternoon queue, when you really need to get off, it’s always the person in front whose item won’t scan or is even missing its swing ticket – leading to the sales assistant to rush off and find another. A smudge, mark, crease, rip or anything placed over the top accidentally can harm the effectiveness of the linchpin of our supply chain.
While RFID tags are not indestructible, they’re much more resistant to breakage. Without a need for line of sight, there is no need to place the tag in an easily reachable place – offering retailers the opportunity to place the tag internally, for instance in the care label of a jumper.
A huge advantage of a barcode is their cost - they’re basically free. Whilst this is great, for replacing those that have been mishandled or damaged, the security they provide is limited as they can be reproduced with relative ease.
With printers/encoders and the specialist materials used to make a tag are far less common than a desktop printer, making RFID more difficult to reproduce.
The security of the tag is enhanced by the data that it stores, as the additional storage capacity allows retailers to serialise their products, significantly reducing the odds of being able to reproduce the product identifier. But, more importantly this provides retailers with an unprecedented layer of richness. Identifying products at an item level is an important step towards enabling better business decisions and increased traceability.
This enhanced data, when combined with the ability of an RFID tag to be read without line of sight, opens up the possibility of automating processes within the supply chain. Without the need for human interaction a read event can be linked to trigger an action – a door opening, a pick, an alarm for example. This is where RFID can really open up some interesting possibilities for organising your supply chain to offer a real competitive advantage.
A relative advantage?
There are of course advantages to using barcodes, they‘re much smaller and lighter than an RFID tag. There is no risk of interference from the material they’re placed on. They’re a universal technology – it is rare to find a retail store that does not have the capability to scan them. And, the cost of manufacture is nominal. For grocery products, like a can of beans, they are still a brilliant solution.
But for some applications, apparel for example, when you compare the requirements of a data carrier, RFID tags have a clear advantage.And with the costs being driven down all the time, for the apparel sector now is the time for retailers to start looking into RFID.
Find out how these functional advantages of RFID translate into real business benefits in our infographic.
Business benefits of RFID in the apparel sector
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