These “intelligent” labels combine radio frequency identification (RFID) and bar code technology embedded in a label that also includes plain text. A digital reader device using radio waves can capture information embedded in a smart label (negating the need for line of sight), while optical scanners can read bar codes. And, it can be reprogrammed as needs change.
NFC gains ground in RFID arena
In a recent article, The Economist heralds a new era where plain text, bar codes and RFID all reside on a label to enhance tracking along with information sharing to/from consumers.
The article notes, “These smart labels are about to become a big part of ‘the internet of things’…Some products already have small electronic devices, such as a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags attached to them…They are used as security tags, to track products in a factory and they are implanted into pets for identification…The idea behind smart labels is to produce a flexible film of electronics that can be printed like a bar code.”
The article then details the innovation of Near Field Communication (NFC), which allows a user to simply tap an NFC tag with a smartphone or other portable device to send or receive data. The article points out that, “NFC is a more sophisticated version of RFID and is already used by some contactless payment systems.”
Greatly enhanced label uses on the horizon
The Economist article adds that these applications also can “include recording storage times and temperatures for perishable goods like food and pharmaceuticals. This data can be displayed on a flexible screen along with other consumer information. Smart labels might even be programmed to automatically discount their prices in response to marketing campaigns. Confirming the identity of products is another potential use…Imagine a label that would inform a smartphone app that you have put on the wrong trousers.”
RFID Journal details the rollout of another NFC application installed in thousands of stores internationally that presents pricing along with product-related text and graphics. Stores can update pricing and other product information by transmitting changes to the pertinent labels. The Journal notes, “…a customer can first download the retailer’s app onto his or her phone…Then, while walking through the aisles, the shopper will see some basic product information, including each item’s name and pricing…the patron can also tap the label with his or her phone, which then captures the unique ID number encoded to the label’s RFID tag, thereby directing the phone…to a link where it can access more data...as well as coupons or loyalty benefits.”
Marijuana sales also tie to RFID
Along with myriad mainstream uses of RFID and aligned technologies to enhance the buying experience, there also are sophisticated product tracking options. This is especially evident in Colorado, where strict regulatory oversight mandates RFID tags on every marijuana plant grown and sold.
An article on mashable.com notes the system “stipulates digital tracking of marijuana plants from seed to sale, using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology…In the medical and retail marijuana industry, marijuana plants are propagated by clipping a stem from one plant to create a new one. The new plant is issued an RFID tag with a unique 24-digit ID number, which is entered into the government’s online system. When the plant is harvested, its leaves and buds are shipped to a marijuana retailer with a new RFID tag and a printed label detailing the plant’s origins. The system is updated at every step of the production process…to ensure that marijuana plants are coming from state-authorized grow facilities and being transported to state-authorized retailers, cutting off the black market.”
Smart labels are transforming the buying experience, giving consumers more convenient ways to access more pertinent product information while safeguarding public health. That’s smart marketing.
Tammie MacLachlan contributed to this report.
Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008. Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA. She has been in the printing industry for 19 years and with Lightning Labels for more than nine years. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.