Canadian internet users say they are ready to embrace RFID technology, not only in their grocery stores but also in their homes, with their main fears having changed from safety, privacy and security to the cost of RFID, and that it might not work properly, according to a poll by TNS Canadian Facts.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) has in the past been the subject of great debates concerning personal privacy, security and even safety. Unlike bar code labels, RFID tags don't need line-of-sight to be scanned at the checkout in a store, meaning a entire shopping basket or cart can be scanned without being unpacked.
Willing to try
The TNS Canadian Facts poll found that three-quarters of grocery shoppers (75%) are willing to try a checkout lane enabled with RFID technology and more than half (56%) claim they would be willing to use an RFID lane as their preferred method of ringing up their purchases.
Interestingly, two-thirds of those polled said that if the grocery store where they normally shop decided to replace all its cashiers with self-serve RFID checkout lanes, they would continue to shop there.
The new 'grocery experience'
"Online consumers en masse are attracted to the next evolution in the grocery store experience, RFID-enabled checkout lanes," said Jennifer Bylok, research director for TNS Canadian Facts, and author of the study. "Canadians are increasingly pressed for time and they appear eager to accept innovations that will free them up to focus on more important priorities than mundane tasks like grocery shopping."
No longer scared
While 40% of consumers mentioned security, privacy, or safety concerns regarding RFID, more practical matters topped their list of worries: Three-quarters (75%) fear that the costs involved in implementing RFID would be passed on to consumers, while 70% thought that the technology may not work properly, and 43% believe that it is less personal than when barcodes were used.
"We had initially thought that, because RFID tags continued to relay the information stored on them, and could be scanned by a compatible reader between one and three meters away, consumers would have a more negative reaction to the technology. But this was not the case," said Bylok.
Kill-switch still wanted
However, given a choice between disabling RFID tags immediately after their grocery bill had been paid or keeping them intact so that they could continue to broadcast their data, understandably over 60% said they would prefer to disable the tags.
According to some industry studies, waiting times at checkouts could drop by about 30% if stores adopted this technology. And the grocery shoppers surveyed also seem to expect these benefits: Nearly three in four (74%) think the main advantage of RFID is saving time, and 53% expect it to make their shopping experience easier.
Even given the overall concern that one's grocery bill could increase, two-thirds of consumers most interested in this technology would be willing to pay more for their groceries in exchange for spending less time waiting in line.
The smart pantry is coming
But the perceived benefits of RFID extend far beyond grocery stores. The study found that almost half of consumers (46%) would be interested in having RFID readers in their homes to maintain an ongoing inventory of what they have bought and consumed. Those most interested in this application include males, households with children, and consumers with an annual household income of Can$100,000 or more. Bylok observed that consumers are commonly trying to juggle a number of personal priorities, and not having to think about what they need at the grocery store is a very attractive proposition for many.
In fact, not forgetting items needed at the store was the most frequently mentioned aspect consumers like about the possible in-home applications of RFID (54%), followed by not having to make shopping lists (36%), and saving time (32%).
Concerns at home?
When asked specifically about concerns with home-based RFID readers, just under half of respondents mentioned security, safety and privacy (43% when added together). This was fewer than those who mentioned the cost of readers (69%), or that they may not work properly (59%), or that they might break down frequently (45%).
"At this early stage, consumers are simply more concerned about the technology itself. Once they are reassured that it will work, and they have an actual price-point to consider, their concerns may shift to more overarching issues, such as privacy and security. It will be crucial that the RFID industry address these concerns early by educating consumers about the truths and myths surrounding this technology," Bylok warned.
The study was based on a nationally representative survey of 1,056 principal grocery shoppers, and was conducted online in January 2007. Respondents were randomly selected from the TNS Canadian Facts internet access panel.