RFID Technology in Retail: What is RFID?

By: Michael Chalberg of Combase USA

Chances are, if you’ve shopped in a store in the past few years, you’ve seen a UPC or barcode being scanned at the checkout counter. This same technology has been around since the 70s, and while it’s been extremely useful in tracking inventory, it has its limits. That’s why more retailers are turning to RFID technology as a solution.

RFID, or radio frequency identification, uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects. This differs from barcodes because it doesn’t require a line of sight for scanning—a tremendous advantage for businesses looking to track products quickly and accurately. It’s also more secure than traditional barcodes due to its ability to embed sensitive information in the tag itself.

What Is RFID?
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a technology that enables users to identify and track the location of objects in real-time. It consists of small tags attached to objects which are powered by a wireless transmitter and receiver.

The tags contain digital information which is wirelessly communicated to a reader device when it is within range. This data can then be used to identify and track the object and provide additional information about the object or its owners, such as product details or customer information.

RFID technology has been around for many years, but recent advancements have made it increasingly popular in retail settings. RFID tags are much more secure and reliable than their barcode counterparts, making them ideal for use in stores where speed and accuracy are essential. They also enable businesses to keep better track of their inventory, ensuring that customers always have access to the products they need when needed.

How Does RFID Technology Differ From Barcodes?
To understand how RFID technology differs from others, like barcode scanners, you must first understand what a barcode is. Barcodes are an optical machine-readable representation of data about the item to which it is attached. When scanned by a reader, the information in a barcode can be used to identify and track assets or inventory.

But several significant differences between RFID tags and barcodes make RFID technology much more effective for certain applications. First, RFID tags are composed of two main parts: an antenna and a microchip that contains the tag’s unique identifier. This allows it to receive radio waves sent by RFID readers up to 30 feet away.

Secondly, while traditional barcode scanners require a direct line of sight to read the data, RFID readers can capture information without being pointed directly at a tag.

Finally, while each item must have its own dedicated barcode, multiple items can have their data stored on the same RFID tag – making it much more efficient.

How Does RFID Work?
Ever wondered how RFID works? RFID technology uses radio waves to identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information, which an RFID reader reads. The reader transmits information on the tag to a computer system, and then you can use the data where you need it.

To use this technology, retailers only need three things:

  • Tag: a special tag that has a small chip and antenna
  • Reader: a handheld or fixed device that reads the data stored on an RFID tag
  • Antenna: picks up signals from an RFID tag

It’s quite simple: when a tagged item is brought within range of an antenna, the signal from the tag is picked up by the antenna. This signal is then read by an RFID reader, which sends it to a computer for processing and interpretation.