RFID tags, which allow goods to be electronically tracked along the supply chain, have been touted as a way of removing the need for checkout staff, cutting crime and slashing inventory levels.
However, a Home Office-sponsored project, which was based on the music supply chain involving record label EMI, wholesaler Handleman UK and supermarket chain Asda, has indicated that improved efficiency will be the initial benefit of RFID.
"The biggest potential benefit the trial identified for us was supply chain integrity, helping us to identify and reduce the number of discrepancies over what our suppliers invoice us for and what we physically receive," said Kate DeFraja, trading loss prevention manager at Asda.
"The other big benefit will be the automatic updating of the inventory system as the product enters the back of the store. By using RFID readers that read multiple tags in a delivery, we can eliminate the need for manual scanning."
In the trial, CDs were fitted with RFID tags that tracked them through the supply chain to the consumer, as well as tracking returns back to the manufacturer.
The report on the trial, entitled CD.id - RFID's Greatest Hit, said achieving such visibility of assets has the potential to significantly improve supply chain efficiency and make the physical movement of goods considerably easier to manage.
Although supply chain efficiency will be the main short-term benefit of RFID, there is no reason why the more ambitious targets cannot be achieved over time, said Stuart Dean, RFID project manager at standards body e.centre, which managed the trial.
"It is entirely conceivable that in five to 10 years' time products could travel through the supply chain with little or no human intervention," he said. "The report proves conclusively that there is a long-term future for RFID and that business is willing to support its adoption."