M&S praised for addressing RFID concerns

Retailers should use Marks & Spencer's approach to addressing radio frequency identification privacy concerns when considering...

Retailers should use Marks & Spencer's approach to addressing radio frequency identification privacy concerns when considering implementing the electronic tracking technology, analyst firm Forrester Research has advised.

Privacy campaigners have claimed that RFID, which is expected to replace the barcode, would allow retailers to track every purchase a consumer makes.

However, M&S, which last month began the UK's largest trial of item-level RFID by tagging 15,000 clothing items in its High Wycombe store, has taken a number of precautions which Forrester described as "open, conservative and grounded in business purpose".

The analyst firm identified four elements in the M&S trial that boosted acceptability:
  • The tags are conspicuous, meaning there is no question of customers being "snooped on"
  • Shoppers can ask to have tags removed or remove them themselves after purchase
  • RFID readers will only be used outside trading hours, not while customers are present
  • M&S consulted with campaign group Consumers Against Privacy Invasion (Caspian), an opponent of RFID, before the trial.

Forrester analyst Carl Zetie said, "Retailers should look at M&S for a model on how to approach the issues and track the outcome of the trial."

Despite Caspian's hard-line opposition, retailers should consult the group before starting trials, Zetie said. "Potential benefits include uncovering unforeseen confidentiality issues," he said.

RFID will be high on the agenda at a meeting this week between Wal-Mart and its top 100 suppliers, where discussions will centre around plans for attaching RFID tags to every box and pallet shipped to the stores by 2005.

Linda Dillman, chief information officer at Wal-Mart, will explain what will be tagged, where RFID will be rolled out and how the technology will tie into existing delivery systems.

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