In many ways, 2004 will be seen as a technological turning point for retail: the year that many technologies that have been hyped for years started to become real.
Traditionally, retail has always been a mixed barcode for being technologically advanced. The largest retail giants—such as Wal-Mart—are among the most advanced companies in the world and are widely viewed as being on the cutting edge: companies that deploy technologies while other industries sit back and watch.
At the same time, the overwhelming majority—98.8 percent, according to Microsoft—of all retailers are tiny, even by small business standards of fewer than 100 employees. That 98.8 percent figure refers to single-store retailers.
Those small, independent retailers tend to be technology-averse and often use very old low-end POS (point-of-sale) systems and minimal state-of-the-art technology of any kind. In other words, while the largest retailers (Best Buy, Home Depot, Costco, Target, etc.) get most of the ink and do indeed aggressively try to leverage technology, there are a far larger number of retailers who are barely beyond typewriters.
Here at eWEEK.coms Retail Center, weve chosen the six most significant retail technologies in 2004. The reasons they all came into the spotlight this year is quite diverse, but they do share one common thread: Technology investments are now growing, not so much as an attempt to better rivals as much as a requirement for staying in business.
Talk about your hype. RFID has been talked about for many years, but it took the strong-arm tactics of Wal-Mart to push suppliers to take it seriously. January 2005 was never intended to be a true deadline, but it served its purpose: to get people to truly start working on getting RFID up and running. If nothing else, its provided plenty of jobs for people who make tools to help retailers co-exist with barcode and RFID during what the retailer expected to be a very lengthy transition.
RFID was beset with plenty of well-vocalized concerns about privacy, but the systems inability to function consistently under ideal conditions made such fears seem overblown.
Heres a short list of stories on how RFID influenced the retail scene:
- Will Users Get Buried Under RFID Data?
- Will Wireless Rewrite the RFID Landscape?
- Overblown RFID Privacy Fears Still Merit Attention
- Startup Rolls Out RFID Transition Tool
- RFID to Be Served 7-Eleven Style
- Best Buy Taking Baby Steps to Full RFID
- Integrated Device Could Ease RFID Process