RFID Arena


Introduction to Retail RFID Technology, part 1

As we talk about RFID a lot, the Tech Geek has been asked the following questions: “What is RFID? How does it work?” School of RFID has been constantly investigating this topic, and now some light will be shed on our findings.

In this series of articles, the Tech Geek shares the basics of RFID with you. Maintaining the RFID Arena and writing in-depth articles have taken much effort in form of research and have engaged several talented RFID-minded investigators and experts. The articles and blog posts published on the RFID Arena are only the peak of an iceberg - several great writings are still lying in the drawers. The Tech Geek opened one of the drawers and compiled a series of technical articles out of the researches conducted by School of RFID. Let's get busy.

How does RFID work?

The victorious path of RFID relates to the fact that it is a technology unlike any other. Usually, RFID is understood as HF to UHF technologies. Now we concentrate on UHF Gen 2 technologies since they are the current standard that for example the retail business has chosen to adopt.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a sensor technology based on smart tags, which are attached to different surfaces and items. The microchip in the tag stores a small amount of data. In all cases, an RFID system consists of a tag, an interrogator (a reader) and a computer system network. 

Tags are mini-sized radio transmitter/responders ("transponders") that store and broadcast data. Tag types are many, as well as sizes, shapes and capabilities of them. The data in the tag can be a simple identification number for identifying the object the tag is attached to. Most often the tag contains only a number, which serves as a key to a record in a database on the host back end system, which stores the actual data. When the tags are scanned with a reader, they broadcast their contents. The reader catches the information and sends it to the host back end. The host can use the data in an application program, such as a system for warehouse management, inventory, ERP or a database. 

Nearly all RFID applications operate on four different frequencies: low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF), ultra-high frequency (UHF) and microwave (MF). Item-level tagging typically uses UHF tags, which operate on between 860 and 930 MHz frequencies. NFC tags operate on high frequency. 

The use of RFID traces back to the World War II, though the commercial applications were taken into use not before the 1980s. The early application areas have mainly consisted of road tolls, live-stock tracking and manufacturing. After these the commercial applications have been introduced. The adoption of technology in new business areas has been favored by advancements in technological development and constantly decreasing prices of tags.It is estimated that the most rapid growth in RFID will come from retail and consumer goods. (Harrop, Das & Holland 2011). According to IDTechEx, the total RFID market in 2015 is worth $10.1 Billion, and the estimation for 2020 is up to $12.3 Billion.

The building blocks needed

An RFID system needs four components for performance: individual tagged items, an RFID reader, tags and the software including the database.

Retail _RFID1

Each of the items has an own tag attached. Each tag holds a unique identifier like a serial number, therefore each product is individual. There are various types of tags on the market for different purposes. A reader can be a wireless mobile computer or a fixed reader installed at a gateway, at the cash register or even on the ceiling. In addition, there must be software for both the RFID reader and for the back end system in order to inform of product details, follow stock levels and perform store operations.

In a nutshell, this is how it works: When searching for a specific product, the reader sends a command for each of the tags filling specific conditions to respond. The reader can ask for instance all the black t-shirts size S of model X from collection Y to answer. When the tag answers, it sends its own identifier as a reply. The reader gets the details matching the identifier from the back end system and therefore it knows that the specific garment is there. In taking inventory, the reader reads all the tags it finds with conditions set while the salesperson is sweeping the mobile reader close to the clothes in a shop. Then the mobile reader reports the findings: it can tell the number of tags found, the percentage of tags found compared to the information of the back end system… This is much up to the user application.

In 2016, apparel industry alone will demand 4.6 Billion RFID tags ( IDTechEx). This is important for the fashion industry, since the SKU (stock keeping unit) counts are high and the turnaround time on items is fast. With a high number of SKUs, shrinkage seems to be a remarkable problem as well. In addition, a high potential for OOS (out of stock) situations leads to loss of sale. There already is evidence about how retailers have been able to eliminate shrinkage, reduce losses of sale and have the RFID investment pay for itself in a rather short time. 

Next time the Tech Geek tells you about radio technology and radio waves. To be continued…


Brown, Dennis E. (2007) RFID Implementation. McGraw-Hill Communications.

Harrop, Das & Holland (2011): Apparel RFID 2011-2021. IDTechEx.

Tajima, M. (2007) Strategic value of RFID in supply chain management. Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management, Vol. 13, p. 263.

20 comments on “Introduction to Retail RFID Technology, part 1”

  1. Posted 02 December 2015 at 01:16:43

    Great article may I use this information to educate our clients.


    Joe Jiner

  2. Gravatar of Suvi DalénSuvi Dalén
    Posted 03 December 2015 at 11:43:50

    Hi Joe,

    thank you for your feedback. You may use this, as well as the other coming parts of the article.


  3. Gravatar of HillHill
    Posted 11 January 2016 at 09:58:52

    "between 860 and 930 MHz frequencies" shoould be "between 840 and 960 MHz frequencies" .

  4. Posted 23 October 2017 at 14:54:48

    The reader gets the details matching the identifier from the back end system and therefore it knows that the specific garment is there. In taking inventory, the reader reads all the tags it finds with conditions set while the salesperson is sweeping the mobile reader close to the clothes in a shop

  5. Posted 30 October 2017 at 14:19:18

    Retail RFID technology is a censor technology which is newly introduced in the market through extraordinary censor technology we can achieve some outstanding things which will be profitable for human beings..

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  7. Posted 21 November 2017 at 06:49:29

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