The benefits that retailers are able to gain from RFID technology are relatively easy to see. But how about customer attitudes? We set out to look into customer perceptions of RFID technology in retail stores in more detail.
RFID benefits in store operations for the
When talking about implementation of RFID technology in retail
stores it is relatively easy - even for the customers - to see how
the technology is beneficial for the retailers.
Faster and more accurate inventory, quicker transfer of items
from the warehouse to the shelf, easier item search and benefits in
point of sales are issues that make sense. The benefits for the
stores are quite obvious even to the inexperienced eye.
Customers: Try walking in their shoes
In contrary to retailers, most customers are not consciously
evaluating the benefits of new technologies. Where companies take
time getting actively acquainted with the technology, customers do
not always see how RFID is beneficial to their shopping experience
as well, or do they?
We set out to look into customer attitudes towards RFID
technology in more detail. What better way to do that, than
discussing the topic with persons such as you and me and getting
honest opinions on it. The persons interviewed for this article had
limited or little prior knowledge of RFID technology.
Our group of interviewees consisted of Marja, Pekka, Anna,
Pirita, Mika and Kristina from different age groups. They kindly
gave us an inside view on their perception of RFID technology usage
in retail stores and how they feel that they benefit from it.
What's in it for the customer?
Customers want shopping to be pleasurable. They expect to find
the right items in the right color and size conveniently.
Additionally they want shopping to be a pleasant experience. So
what can RFID offer?
The limited knowledge of RFID makes some introduction necessary,
but then the customers get excited. The leap from: "This is the
identification thing in stores with which retails see how much they
have sold" (Marja, 62) to full excitement is quite quick.
Smart fitting rooms
Smart fitting rooms are fitting rooms equipped with an RFID
scanner and a tablet inside the fitting room. All items taken into
the fitting room are scanned by the RFID scanner. Product
information is captured and the tablet presents relevant
information to the customer. The customer can utilize different
applications at the tablet, such as
- call for assistance
- look up additional item information
- obtain information on item availability
- share product information and pictures on social media
- use VIP advantages
- give feedback
- watch videos
When introducing the smart fitting room concept to the
interviewees the feedback proved amazed and positive. "Wow, I would
love to try that" says Anna, 30. The applications that different
persons were interested in or seemed to value the most, varied from
person to person.
Our interviewees were intrigued by the possibility to look up
matching items. When selecting an item of clothing for fitting,
matching items can be checked via the tablet. So shopping for a new
top might help the customer find a matching handbag or skirt.
Customers value the call for assistance possibility to browse
through options and be inspired by suggested ideas without having
to roam through the store again. "I would definitely like to get
suggestions on matching items when I find a piece of clothing that
I like. It would be great to have additional tips available" says
Additionally the "call for assistant" functionality was highly
valued. Using the tablet as a device for communicating with the
sales person is seen as extremely convenient. Pekka, 32 states that
he would especially enjoy the convenience of communicating to the
sales person that an item is needed in another size or color. "That
way I would not have to change into my own clothes and start
searching for the correct item from the shelves".
When customers go shopping they expect to find what they are
looking for in the correct size and with the correct attributes.
Customers were happy with the prospect that RFID can support
product size and color options' availability by lowering
out-of-stock situations and increasing inventory accuracy. Pekka
mentions that RFID technology could prevent him from being
dissatisfied with a store. He says "When I go shopping, I find it
disappointing when an item I am looking for, is not available in
the correct size". In cases where an item is not available on the
shelf, the prospect of ordering unavailable items via a tablet in
the store's fitting room directly to your doorstep, is seen as a
The interviewees stated that if a desired item is not available,
they will usually not return to the store for that specific item
later. Either they purchase an alternative item, purchase the same
item from another store or simply do not buy it at all. Ordering
directly from the smart fitting room and receiving the item to the
home address seems to be easy and convenient enough.
Similarly to the smart fitting rooms, customers also show
favorable feelings towards smart kiosks. Easy access to additional
product information was greeted with a positive attitude. Customers
mentioned that they would be keen on utilizing smart kiosks for
this purpose. "Additional product information and details on origin
and material are very important to me and smart kiosks would be
helpful for that" (Marja, 62).
Finding information on the location of items with the help of the
smart kiosk is an easy to see benefit for customers. Instead of
doing guess work and roaming through the store items can be looked
up at kiosks.
Quick - better - more: customer
RFID enables faster and more accurate inventory, quicker
transfer of items from the warehouse to the shelf and easier item
search. For the customer this translates into better customer
service. Sales staff will spend less time on time-consuming tasks
and will have more time to focus on the customer. Additionally
sales personnel will have more accurate information available to
assist customers in regards of availability and location of
In stores with implemented smart fitting rooms, store personnel
can be contacted even more easily and more directly via the call
for assistance application on the tablet of a smart kiosk or
fitting room. Anna, 30: "I suspect that sometimes customers are too
shy to interrupt store personnel if the staff appears busy." By
using the application you avoid having to search for staff and in
return the staff is not interrupted in situations where they
already serve a customer.
In a nutshell, good service for customers is a combination of
sales personnel being available when needed and with relevant
information. RFID improves both and supports store operations to
meet customer expectations for a seamless shopping
Fast checkout was especially appreciated by the interviewees in
cases where customers would want to get quickly in and out of the
store with the correct items. For one interviewee though, this did
seem to be of less priority. "For me, time savings is not that
important. If I do not have enough time to go shopping, I do not go
at all" one interviewee said. The same person nevertheless valued
the accuracy of RFID at point of sale. "I think it is good that the
technology ensures that correct prices are entered at the
cashiers'. Any price reduction will be taken into account directly
and without manual input by staff on basis of reduction
Having said the above, it is important to bear in mind how time
savings are interpreted. The majority of customers could see the
direct link between RFID and time savings. They realized that fast
checkout and time savings are not only depending on time spent at
the cashiers'. It also comprises the time spent queuing for your
turn as well as time spent waiting for sales personnel locating
Putting it into perspective: where shopping is seen as a
recreational activity, getting in and out of a store may not appear
to be first priority. In those cases the obvious first priority is
to enjoy a pleasant shopping experience. Nevertheless, queuing or
waiting for staff to locate items, hardly qualify as a pleasant
experience for the shoppers, hurry or no hurry.
The interviewees were intrigued by the added value RFID
technology could offer them. They would without a doubt prefer to
utilize stores that enable them to benefit from less out-of-stock
situations. Making product information easily available and
prioritizing quicker and better service as well as time savings
This is why I think that introducing customers to the
possibilities that RFID can offer is definitely worth the effort.
As customers - what we may prefer and where we see benefits - is
just as unique as we are as individuals. But all in all, everyone
could see benefits that fulfill their individual needs.
The main point is that added value through RFID can be
translated into freedom to spend your time as you please,
convenience of finding what you're looking for and getting
assistance when you need it.
The perfect fit - Fashion retailers and RFID: how to make the
The "smart fitting room"
5 most common applications on the shop floor
RFID - What's in it
for the customer?
Many of the applications above have been described in the video
RFID & Privacy