“Prada used the wireless chips on its product labels to both track merchandise and provide shoppers with tailored information on products. Sales assistants had wireless chip readers to access a database that stored detailed information on the products and on the customers’ buying habits.
But now those chip labels have been been quietly removed in an example of the kind of cultural barrier the technologists could never have predicted.
“It turns out the ladies who shopped at Prada objected to the data collected,” said Terry Retter, a technology forecaster at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “They didn’t mind Prada keeping track of what they bought and when, but they did mind the store knowing what size they wore.””
It is, generally speaking, impossible (as well as counterintuitive) to store consumer information on a product’s RFID tag. Mr. Retter indicates that Prada customers were uncomfortable with the level of individual consumer data being recorded, which is not related to the physical RFID system. Keeping track of a consumer’s dress size or any other characteristic is a a function of a frequent buyer program or simply tracking the use of a credit card. Many retailers have extensive transaction logs and know what sort of products, including size, any number of individual consumers purchase.
Prada’s mistake was not the use of RFID tags, (although that program had flaws) but making its consumers uncomfortable by giving its sales staff too much information.
“Meta Group analyst and RFID specialist John Brand was not convinced that initiatives such as self-checkout would benefit customers. He said the most compelling application of RFID outside the supply chain was as a security device for commonly stolen goods.”
Unfortunately RFID tags are a poor retail theft prevention method. Because of the several second read time and the extremely limited read distance of a smart-shelf tag, there are more appropriate shrinkage reduction technologies. Rumor even has it that Gillette’s item-level shelf was robbed during a trade show in Europe earlier this year.