As the use of RFID explodes, the technology is being integrated into more and more consumer-facing applications. That was evident last week when Burger King announced that it is rolling out Coca-Cola’s RFID-enabled Freestyle soda machines to all 850 of its company-owned stores.
In another interesting consumer-facing use case, the Tampa Bay Lightning have embedded RFID into 10,000 team jerseys given to season ticket holders. The loyalty program allows fans to buy discounted items at the retail store and at concession stands.
Our final issue of 2011 looks these applications as well as some of the more interesting consumer-facing use cases that developed this year.
The Lightning jerseys, which have RFID tags sewn into the sleeve, allow fans to receive discounts on food, beverages and retail items when wearing the jersey at home games. Season ticket holders are each given an exclusive jersey before the season begins.
Fans receive discounts when the jersey is scanned by readers at checkout at a concession stand or in the retail store. Since implementing the program, the Lightning has seen a significant increase in demand for full season tickets, as well as a sea of blue jerseys in the stands at home games.
“This innovative technology enables us to track and identify spending patterns and preferences of our season ticket members to help us provide even better service,” said Brad Lott, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Tampa Bay Lightning. “Our season ticket members absolutely love their new jerseys and are taking advantage of the discounts provided exclusively to them.”
In 2010, the team’s new ownership challenged team executives to build a unique program to jumpstart season ticket sales. The result was the season ticket holder jersey concept.
There is no word yet about whether the Lightning plan to tie the RFID-enabled jerseys into social media kiosks that allow fans to instantly post photos to Facebook and other social media sites.
As for the Burger King announcement, the Wall Street Journal says that the high-tech soda machines will be rolled out by April. The machines rely on Indy chips produced by Seattle-based Impinj.
The move will boost the install base for the soda machines by nearly 50 percent. The machines are currently operating in 1,772 locations, including movie theaters and restaurants. In what could be a huge endorsement for the Freestyle machine, Burger King has also recommended that its 7,000 US franchisees also install the machines.
Freestyle is a touch-screen operated soda dispenser that allows users to mix and match their own personal drinks, dispensing more than 120 sparkling and still beverage brands from one machine. Users will be able to test flavors never before available in the U.S., such as caffeine-free Diet Coke with Lime, Fanta Peach and Minute Maid Light Orange Lemonade.
According to an article in Advertising Age, Coke is assembling a major media campaign for the machines in 2012. Bill Pecoriello, CEO Consumer Edge Research, told Advertising Age that more than 20 percent of consumers polled said they would be very likely to switch restaurants or convenience stores due to the presence of Freestyle. Interest in the machine is also particularly high among teens and portions of the multicultural population, he said.
The Freestyle system is an example of the vast market opening up for applications that add RFID to devices that are not primarily RFID readers. The Freestyle system uses RFID to track the flavor cartridges inside the machines. Each drink dispenser has four Impinj Indy chips inside that provide the ability to read the tags in syrup cartridges so that the machine can trigger supply chain replenishment.
The solution also allows Coca-Cola to guarantee that flavor cartridges are authentic, and to recall or shut off a tap for a certain flavor when necessary. The Freestyle machine is a great example of UHF RFID’s value – the technology is embedded and used in such a way that it provides real business value and improves consumer experience.
“The ability to customize your own beverages combined with the quality that Coca-Cola Freestyle delivers to our guests is a perfect addition to our most recent new menu offerings,” said Steve Wiborg, president North America, Burger King Corp. “Adding Coca-Cola Freestyle further enhances our guest experience. We’re excited to be the largest franchise system in the U.S. to roll out the fountains in all company owned restaurants.”
Burger King hopes that the Freestyle machines will jump start beverage sales, which have been falling for several years. The NPD Group reports that there has been a six percent drop in total beverage servings (excluding tap water) at restaurants over the last five years, representing a decline of 2.7 billion servings.
The following are some of the more exciting consumer facing applications that were revealed in 2011.
The TopGolf driving range in Allen, Tex., has tagged thousands of golf balls to help keep score of interactive games at the driving range. During peak operation, the facility tracks 10,000 golf balls an hour.
RFID is becoming more popular for access control at concerts and sporting events. On million RFID-enabled wristbands is just the beginning of the use of the technology for concert venues. According to published reports, 38 million people attended concerts in 2010 in North America alone.
In November, the park began using RFID technology to admit guests to its EPCOT theme park. It’s fitting that Disney’s pilot begins at EPCOT, as the park’s Future World exhibit focuses on futuristic technology innovations. According to the web site Disney Projects, Disney’s RFID initiative includes RFID-enabled Mickey Mouse stickers that can be placed on regular admission tickets.
The technology was used in a classic people tracking application to verify participants when several thousand Florida residents sought to form the world’s largest human awareness ribbon in Polk City, Fla., earlier this year.
An RFID-based recycling solution deployed by the city of Dayton, Ohio is proving so successful that the city projects a return-on-investment in less than one year and yearly savings of $100,000.
The University of Minnesota is using RFID to track which students bike to school the most, granting points that can be cashed in for rewards for discounts on bike repairs, bike equipment and even on health insurance premiums.
The NBA, NHL and major league baseball are all pursuing RFID for customer loyalty and social media apps. With a fan base of well over 100 million, those three sports represent only a fraction of the market potential for RFID-driven social media apps.
The PGA Tour began investigating RFID in 2010. At the Northern Trust Open, some of the entrance tickets to the tournament at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades will be equipped with RFID inlays to enhance access on the grounds, personalize engagements between corporate sponsors and VIP guests, and better track how tournament offerings are being utilized.