Retailers need to adopt a code of conduct to help tackle consumers privacy concerns over RFID, says Nigel Ford.
Radio frequency identification, the underlying technology which uses microchips to transmit product serial numbers wirelessly from tags to a scanner without the need for human intervention, is mooted to be the successor to the barcode inventory tracking system.
However, some consumers consider the tags to be a challenge to their civil liberties. The concern is that the unchecked use of RFID could undermine consumer privacy by allowing retailers to gather information about activity in their stores and exploit it for customer-monitoring purposes.
Although mass adoption of the next-generation barcode will not happen overnight, retailers and manufacturers need to address consumers' privacy concerns if RFID's real benefits are to be realised. Engineering a more efficient supply chain will be pointless if consumers do not trust a supermarket enough to buy its merchandise.
So what can be done to lessen concerns that electronic tagging technology amounts to unparalleled levels of consumer surveillance and ultimately persuade consumers to give RFID a chance?
Businesses should educate consumers about how electronic-tracking technology enhances their shopping experience. Businesses which are considering introducing RFID tags will improve the tracking and supplying of their stock.
Retailers should also stress how RFID tagging will benefit the consumer, whether this is by ensuring a shop is carrying supplies of a shopper's favourite baguette or bottles of Mexican beer ahead of their weekly shopping.
Businesses should also establish a code of conduct that dictates how RFID tags can be used, including rules about deactivating the tags at the point of purchase.
Retailers need to explain the extent to which the tags will be deployed. Will the chips be used only at pallet or case level in warehouses and distribution centres, or will they be on the goods themselves?
Finally, retailers should be required to notify consumers if a product carries an RFID tag. Once the product has been bought, consumers should be able to dispose of the tag. Should they decide to leave it on, there needs to be control over what information is collected and how it is applied.
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Nigel Ford is business development manager of consumer products at SAP UK.