European retailers move RFID bandwagon forward


8 Jun 2005

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Four of Europe’s largest retail chains have agreed standards that are seen as critical for the successful adoption of RFID technology.

Ahold, Carrefour, Metro Group and Tesco have thrown their collective weight behind the latest RFID standard, Gen 2.

Making the announcement, GS1, the global electronic product coding standards organisation, said it hoped European retailers’ alignment to its standards would promote competition and drive down prices in the RFID market. It also urged other European retailers to get involved in the European Adoption Programme (EAP), which represents a broad group of companies investigating RFID technology, to prevent the emergence of proprietary systems that could hamper RFID adoption.

Dr Gerd Wolfram, managing director at Metro Group IT and co-chairman of EAP, said: “EAP is working with retailers to ensure that they all work together and stamp out the possibility of proprietary systems springing up. Non-standard systems won’t be able to talk to each other and duplication would be required, so they would be the weak links in the chain jeopardising the benefits that we all hope to see. This would add massive costs to the supply chain, especially for the manufacturers. We call upon other retailers to get involved and help the electronic product code deliver to European business what has been promised.”

The adoption of the standards will promote competition as it allows adopters to buy different modules from different solution providers, therefore driving down prices and improving product functionality. It is beneficial to SMEs supplying more than one retailer, as they will not have to bear the cost of supporting different retailers’ systems. This is especially important in Europe since there is no single, dominant retailer as there is in the US.

“Radio barcodes could bring huge benefits to consumers such as better availability and faster movement of products, which will eventually reduce costs and bring lower prices. These benefits will only come about if retailers and manufacturers develop systems that talk to each other,” said John Clarke, group technology director at Tesco.

“Traditional barcodes posed similar challenges when they were introduced many years ago and now we take them for granted proving that co-operation among retailers gets results for consumers.”

The ratification of Gen 2 has kick-started European implementation, as technology providers are now able to create products with increased performance and functionality.

By Brian Skelly