Ever walk into a shop—tiny or supercenter—and find yourself looking for something in particular that you know should be there, only to learn it’s sold out, or was never carried in the first place? This is about to change, as stores are finally getting better about leveraging low-cost radio chips (RFID) to track the precise stock and location of goods in their stores, in real-time.
“Even with Moore’s law, the adoption of RFID tagging hasn’t really hit its inflection point yet. It’s gotta happen sometime in the net few years,” says Mulpuru. “It’s so essential for one of the biggest gaps: Retailers don’t know 100% of what’s in their store. They know what’s supposed to be in their store. Or if something sells. But that whole in-between process, they don’t know. RFID should solve that and does for some companies.”
Mulpuru points to the prices of RFID, now less than 10 cents per chip, and retailers like Macy’s and Kohl’s getting onboard in tagging every item sold with these chips, just like price tags. Uri Minkoff, CEO of the fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, recently explained to us that upgrading to RFID didn’t just make Rebecca Minkoff’s store inventory clearer; it meant that employees could bring a whole box of RFID tags into a connected dressing room and scan the entire store inventory instantly.
For the shopper, RFID could enable apps to pinpoint its location in a store—imagine being lost inside a Target, pulling our your phone, and learning the snow shovels were right above the salt on aisle seven. And at the same time, RFID could enable more seamless buying experiences—as it likely does at Amazon Go stores—allowing you to take something off the shelf, and allowing all these radio frequencies to automatically pay for you.
And as Ratti argues, technologies like RFID being used higher up in the chain—at the production level—will allow an unprecedented level of tracking that will be mineable for consumer insights we’ve never had for products before. “In the future, we will be able to discover everything there is to know about the apple we are looking at,” he says. “The tree it grew on, the CO2 it produced, the chemical treatments it received, and its journey to the supermarket shelf.”