By now, you’ve probably heard of at least some of the hundreds of ways radio frequency identification (RFID) technology can be used. From more mundane things like tracking conference attendees to farmers who use RFID to track whether cows are in heat, RFID seems to be everywhere. RFID technology has helped golfers keep track of their balls and has been used in jails to track prisoners’ movements. The possibilities seem endless.
In 2015, the total RFID market is worth $10.1 billion; this number includes tags, readers, and software. It is expected to reach $23.4 billion by 2020. Retailers are especially excited about the potential of RFID. Target, for instance, just announced this year that they are sponsoring an RFID lab at Auburn University.
Spencer Hewett, a Thiel Fellow and RFID expert who founded the checkout technology company Skip, sat down at our offices for a brief discussion on RFID technology. Inspiration for Skip came as Hewett became frustrated waiting in line at Victoria’s Secret. We left the discussion for his purchases at Victoria’s Secret for another conversation but probed Hewett on how his company plans to solve the problem of customers waiting in line to check out. The aim of Skip is to allow people to simply walk out of stores with products. RFID was the most logical way to make this dream a reality.
“The two big problems are locating the RFID and the speed of processing RFID fast enough when multiple items are going through door of the store,” stated Hewett.
The product Hewett built to solve these problems has at its foundation two breakthrough RFID technologies. The first is a scanning method that works within the existing RFID protocol and enables Skip to read RFID tags approximately 1000x faster than normal. The second technology is a localization method that locates RFID tags 20x more accurately than traditional methods. Skip claims it is the only company capable of locating passive RFID tags within a six-inch accuracy (versus the current record of six feet).
Skip’s technology will be a boon for shoppers who can avoid lines, but its benefits for retailers are even greater. Skip can make theft a thing of the past. Not only can the technology track items leaving the store without being paid for, it can also track product being removed from the store by employees. The majority of product shrinkage occurs, not as a result of consumers invoking their ‘five finger discount,’ but because of employee theft and theft at earlier points in the supply chain. Thus, Skip’s RFID technology has the potential to make a huge impact in both early and late phases of a physical product’s life cycle.
Versus other RFID technologies, Skip’s technology provides an instantaneous overview of what lies on all store shelves or in warehouses. Retailers can see in real time what stock needs to be replenished.
In addition, its localization technology allows the Skip user to see how customers are interacting with products. It’s easy to imagine how Skip could be used for important merchandising decisions; for instance, retailers could use data to place complementary products next to each other on store shelves.
This technology is overdue. Hewett uses Amazon and Google Maps to show how in-store analytics have fallen behind on the latest technology. As the self-described Google Maps of inventory management, Skip automatically inventories stores every second. And like Amazon, Skip makes the checkout process seamless. Like “One Click” buying from Amazon, Skip makes the barriers to buying goods extremely low.
Listen to Spencer Hewett describe how Skip technology actually works: