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It’s beginning to look a lot like RFID Christmas

Last year we published an article about Santa Claus using RFID to ensure that each person believing in Santa would receive their Christmas presents on time. Now we concentrate on the benefits that RFID can bring consumers to their Christmas preparations.

It has started again. Brainstorming about Christmas presents, listening to Christmas carols, trying to gather the whole family and all relatives to the same place for Christmas Eve, planning the menu, writing Christmas greetings… The list is quite long, and some of us tend to get a few gray hairs trying to make it all work smoothly.

A year ago, exactly at this time of the year, I was working at a fairly large department store. The closer to Christmas it was, the more it seemed that people would fall in three different categories based on their attitude towards the season. The first group - and majority of the customers - was very enthusiastic about everything concerning Christmas. They bought their gifts quite early but kept coming back to the shop for more home decorations and "something small". The second group of customers had "accepted" that it's Christmas again and that they are obligated to buy a few gifts. They usually showed up the evening before Christmas Eve in a panic. The third group consisted of the people who resisted the whole idea of Christmas and the commercial aspects of it. They preferred to skip coming in to the shop at all in December.

So, the thing that I found was common for all the three groups was the fact that all of them seemed to have some kind of "stress" before the season. The first group was stressed about the availability of goods and whether the gifts would please their recipients. The second group found buying gifts very difficult, and the third group was not very enthusiastic about the excessive consumption. Perhaps they had received many gifts that they didn't like and couldn't exchange due to the lack of a receipt.

Based on publications on the RFID Arena website this year, I have made a list of solutions related to "Christmas stress" that would make the holidays more pleasant for all of us.

 

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Christmas cards and gifts - by mail

After deciding at what house the whole family and relatives will spend Christmas (and that's something that RFID really can't help you with), sending Christmas greetings and gifts to the ones living far away is the first thing to do. The problems here usually concern lost addresses and never or late arriving cards/gifts. Deliveries to other continents in particular should be shipped off early if order to avoid the high costs of express deliveries.

So, how can RFID help? An RFID equipped postal service would make sure that the cards and gifts arrive at the right address and that the overseas receivers are reached before Christmas. This still requires that you, the sender, are at the post office in time before the rush. Otherwise Santa's little elves have a lot of express deliveries to take care of.

With the help of RFID-tagged mail the deliveries to "changed addresses" do not end up in the wrong mailboxes, thanks to "wrong mail" -alerts in the mailboxes. Also, at the post DC, where the letters are tagged, the system can alert if the address in the envelope does not match the information of the recipient in the post database. If we take this one step further, the system could generate an SMS message to the sender with the new address information in order to ensure that the sender gets it right the next time.

What comes to cards and packages, the supply chain can be speeded up with RFID: this gives the consumers more time to take the deliveries to the post offices. Perhaps in the future the post office could send out reminder messages like: "Today it's the last day to drop deliveries to Australia in 2 Class" to customers that have requested the service.

Christmas shopping - gifts and party outfits

Aaah, my favorite. Shopping for something to wear on Christmas Eve is somewhat easier than the gambling of picking out Christmas gifts for relatives. I'm not quite sure about the shoe size of my grandmother, or the favorite color of my aunt. But I do know what I like.

With RFID, the sales assistants can ensure that the consumers find the products they are looking for in the right places and that all the sizes and color variations are available. Shopping for a Christmas dress for myself could be facilitated with "Smart fitting rooms" - a fitting room equipped with an RFDI reader and a tablet telling me about the available sizes, colors and items that match the outfits I have chosen. (Read more about this application in Nordic IDea 2012-2013).

When it comes to buying gifts, I have an idea how RFID could help. A customer could try on an item in a fitting room and come to the conclusion that "this would make a perfect gift for me from my husband". The RFID reader in the fitting room in combination with the tablet would allow the wife to "share" the item by e-mail or social media with her husband. How is that for a hint? When it comes to items that you don't take to a fitting room the store personnel can assist the customer with a RFID mobile computer that does the trick. The NFC function in mobile phones could also get the job done. Whole wish lists can easily be made and shared with close ones.

The difficulty with apparel gifts is that we don't all have an identical twin that can try out the garments before purchase. The wish list mentioned above could take care of this. If there isn't time to try the garment on, how about an RFID enabled walk-through body scanner in the store (as Henri Dalén suggested in his guest blog)? It would register the cloth and shoe sizes of the customer and automatically compare it to the information given in the wish list. Because cloth sizes vary shop by shop, this precaution would prevent purchase of the wrong size. Then the gift buyers can walk in the store, enter a code for identifying the specific wish list, and choose the items they will purchase. How does this sound?

Merry grocery retailers and customers

Consumers are quite conscious about the origin of the products they eat nowadays. Each meat producer is obligated to keep records of the origin of the raw materials of their end products. But that is not all the consumers of today want to know. The storing temperatures and the length of the supply chain interest the consumers more and more. And with RFID tracking the differences in storing temperature lead to a more supervised supply chain. Especially on Christmas the freshness is important, since the grocery stores are closed over the holidays and the food must remain fresh in the fridge for more than a few days. Read more about this: Not to perish so fast.

Another problem related to seasonal food is availability. If you go to a supermarket a few days before Christmas, it's quite probable that you will not find everything you wanted to buy. Or if you do, it's too late because the last item is already in another customer's hand. RFID speeds up the supply chain logistics and with real-time product data and "smart shelves" the system can order more replenishment in good time before it's about to run out. Nowadays grocery stores often estimate the coming demand based on data from the past year, which isn't always reliable. With unreliable data the supply chain isn't able to deliver the goods in time. With RFID in the smart shelves the sale of the goods can be monitored and therefore the timing of deliveries can be estimated more precisely and the food you need will be on the shelf on time.

RTI (returnable transport items) is also a huge part of the grocery retail business. Returning roller cages, plastic crates and pallets can get a bit sticky when most of the employees are devoted to moving goods from the back room to the shop floor as fast as they can. Returning the transport platforms becomes a secondary issue. This can lead to a situation where the producer has all the pallets in stores and has nowhere to pack all the out-going goods. By tracking the RTIs, the transporter or producer always has an idea about how many platforms should be coming back and when.

Ensuring fresh Christmas trees and flowers

RFID has proven to be beneficial for the horticultural sector and some consumers of today want to know where their Christmas tree has grown and when it has been cut. These circumstances might e.g. have an effect on how fast the tree needles start falling on your living room floor. In addition, for some consumers the difference between natural trees and grown trees is remarkable. When it comes to flowers, the growers and retailers can use temperature tags to ensure that the flowers have been stored in the correct temperature at all times.

Travelling at Christmas

Most of us spend at least a part of Christmas in the car. We travel to see relatives and share gifts and Christmas greetings. Renting a car in Christmas time is easier when the cars are tagged with RFID: the rental companies keep better track of their vehicles and the parking. The park houses and parking areas can better supervise the ticketing and provide free lots for their customers faster. Even the gas station owners get into the Christmas spirit since they know that gasoline thefts are reduced with RFID. The road maintenance companies can warn drivers about accidents and jammed crossroads and the police and safety authorities make sure we all drive safe.

So from all of us to all of you, have a merry RFID Christmas!

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