justin patton RFID

Justin Patton, Auburn University RFID Lab Director, explains how RFID use is growing in the retail economy. 

The growing use of RFID tags at retail shops and online stores is helping merchants and customers know if their product is real or counterfeit.

Justin Patton, director of the Auburn University RFID Lab, recently commented on how RFID technology helps stop the counterfeiting of products. In 2018, there were 14 billion items globally with RFID tags on them, mostly in retail. In 2019, the number grew to 20 billion items.

How can RFID technology stop the counterfeiting of products?

Radio-frequency identification, or RFID, gives each individual product its own unique serial number identity. So if you think about shoes for example, every single pair of shoes, even in each shoe, can have its own serial number that’s unique from all the other shoes like it. With that RFID tag, it carries that data and it’s very hard for somebody to copy it and create the same identity that it has on there.

How does the technology work?

It’s a small radio tag with a small chip set in the middle of it. They’ve been in use in retail stores in apparel since 2010, so you’ve probably bought hundreds of them on your items in the past and didn’t even realize it. The way it works is you have a radio field, usually a UHF radio field. It puts out a radio- frequency field that goes out about 5 to 10 feet. And then it charges up that tag and it responds back its identity number to the scanner. You can think of it like a next-generation bar code.

Which industries most utilize RFID to stop counterfeiting?

In use now are fashion items and a lot of apparel items, as well as some over-the-counter drugs. For example, Luxottica, an eyewear company, makes sunglasses and eyewear with a small RFID tag in the bridge of the glasses—with the idea being if it’s a knockoff or a counterfeit, if someone purchases it online, you can scan whether it’s real or not.

Does adding RFID tags increase the cost of the product?

An RFID tag, a passive UHF RFID tag, usually runs anywhere from 5 to 10 cents each depending on how many you’re buying. It does add a little bit of cost to the product. For some of the high-end products, it’s not so much that it’s not an issue. But generally we find that it generates more value through with inventory control, increased sales through increased availability and reduced out-of-stock items.

What are the expectations for RFID in the future?

It’s been kind of an apparel technology in the past. We’ve seen a lot of movement into electronics, sporting goods, toys, a lot of things that are heavily researched online by consumers before purchase. And it won’t be long before just about everything you purchase in a retail store will be RFID tagged.

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