QR Code VS RFID: who will win the heart of e-commerce?

Today in France, the requirements in terms of identification and traceability of products sold in stores and on the internet are becoming more and more pressing. The use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or QR Code technologies has become almost essential in the daily life of e-commerce companies. These two technologies serve the same purpose: product traceability both in industry and in sales. While more than 187,000 French companies use RFID on a daily basis, many companies choose to use the QR Code: each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Universality and ease of access for one, connectivity and functionality for the other. Which option will suit you best? The debate is open!

By
Julie Ribeiro
Created
August 12, 2020
Modified
August 13, 2020

QR Codes and RFID: the battle of smart labels in e-commerce

Previously, the barcode had almost exclusive use in the field of product identification for e-commerce. At Bigblue, for example, we use barcodes. We have been looking into the implementation and use of this new RFID technology in order to have a perfect identification and traceability process.

The QR Code and RFID are therefore 2 different concepts but with 1 identical objective. The QR Code is a small black and white logo, printable and accessible to all. RFID labels come in the form of a sticker with an integrated chip which requires a special reader. Used for identifying products, people (with passports) and even animals (in countries where identification is mandatory), the number of sales in the RFID market has increased by 40% since 2005.

These are two different technologies with their own unique characteristics. As an e-merchant, choosing between these two options can sometimes be complicated. It all depends on the size of your company and its stage of development. The advantages and disadvantages will vary depending on your situation!

The QR Code: automatic identification in flash code 

QR codes, in the form of a sticker or label, can communicate much more complex data than bar codes. Indeed, they can direct the user's device to a certain website or application. But that's not all, they can also contain the binary code of a complex image and include up to 4,296 characters of text. 

Well established in the French market on a daily basis, QR Codes are used in 71% of cases. But once again, its quality depends on the circumstances in which the QR Code is used. 

The advantages of the QR Code

Between easy access and guaranteed durability, the use of QR Codes can be a guarantee of quality in the long term.

Its ease of access and high performance

The great popularity of the QR Code is largely due toits accessibility. Indeed, unlike RFID, the QR Code can be read using a smartphone or adapted software. You and your customers can therefore snap them and trace any product. 

Moreover, as 56% of French people own a smartphone, and the fact that total transparency is required, the accessibility of the QR Code is a considerable asset! Not to mention the fact that more and more applications rate products according to their composition as obtained via the QR Code. For example, if you sell artisanal shampoos, your buyers will be able to check the quality of their purchases by snapping the QR Code on the shampoo bottle.Transparency is a real boost for your reputation!

Its resistance to any test in mass distribution

In addition to being accessible and effective, QRCodes have a universal dimension as it is a technology used on all continents, whether by suppliers, vendors or customers. If your suppliers are mainly located in Asia, it might be preferable to opt for traceability via QR Codes since this is the dominating identification technology.

QR Codes are also considered very resistant as 30% of the QR Code must be in view for it to be detected. If your shampoos based on natural products come from far away and tend to get damaged during delivery, the QR Code is a good alternative: this technology is water and tear resistant. 

Finally, one of the major advantages of the QR Code is its affordable price. Being well implemented on the market, the QR Code can be provided free of charge on many websites. Obviously, you can also subscribe to a QR Code generator, to ensure the durability and quality of your QR Codes. Their production does not require any particular technology, as you only need to print them, just like barcodes. It's as simple as that!

Disadvantages

Like any product, QR Codes are not perfect. While they are easy to use, they can cause some inconvenience in everyday life which can waste valuable time for e-merchants.

Manual management of technical codes

Unlike RFID, QR Codes must be scanned individually.For example, to make inventories in your warehouse or to prepare an order, your employees must have the product at hand in order to scan the barcode. If the order includes 5 shampoos, your employee will have to scan each product in turn. Of course, such a manual process can lead to errors and stock-outs.

For example, if one of your orange blossom shampoos isa huge success, but the QR Code does not work properly, you may only realize this once your stock has run out. Some logisticians only use QR Codes without adding the use of RFID to overcome the risk of errors. It's a risky bet for your orders, and for your stock management!

A complicated logistics too! 

As a general rule of thumb, the QR Code is used more as a marketing strategy in the form of a link to an advertising video, a promotion, or a website. It is therefore not always a means of identification in itself, as it can be used in addition to a traditional bar code.

From a purely marketing point of view, the integration of a QR Code on your products must be thought over at length. Indeed, it will often be placed on the primary packaging of your product. However, a QR Code of the wrong color, placed without decoration, can harm the overall aesthetic of your product. It is therefore important to think about its location (avoid the edges so as not to cut off the QR Code, make sure it measures at least 2 cm x2 cm, etc.) and its design. This creative step can become complicated, especially if you sell small bottles of shampoo or hair care with very little space!

Finally, being able to write more than 4,000 characters is not a necessity in logistics. And knowing that the usefulness ofQR Codes for e-merchants is purely logistical in nature, it is not always the most appropriate technology.

Bigblue Tips: As a first-time e-merchant, using QR Codes can be an excellent, modern, and easy to use alternative. This is especially a good idea if your products tend to be delivered with damaged or wet labels. On the other hand, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the QR Code and the teams that create and scan it so as to reduce the risk of error!

RFID: the high-speed smart label

RFID is an identification technology in the form of a small tag containing a microchip, wrapped in plastic or paper for protection.The microchip stores all the data assigned to it (the weight, dimensions, and manufacturing costs of the product in question) in order to meet transparency requirements. 

There are two types of RFID with different properties and characteristics, both popularized in the 2000s. "Passive" tags, powered by an RFID reader, do not require an internal power source and have an extremely long lifespan. And "active" tags, have an internal battery located in the microchip.

Again, no technology is perfect: each, including RFID, has its advantages and disadvantages.

The benefits of the RFID solution

In addition to its aesthetic dimension, RFID has everything to please: spontaneous and immediate tracking, which saves you precious time!

Real-time inventory management

One of the main advantages of RFID and especially of active tags is the immediate update of movements and the evolution of products.Indeed, active tags are based on the "read-write" principle, unlike QR Codes.

This means that at any time, the coding and content of the active tag can be changed remotely: everything changes!

In addition, RFID technology has a more futuristic and modern aesthetic which customers appreciate, and it integrates much more easily into the product design than a QR Code. Thanks to the exchange of electromagnetic waves, it is no longer necessary to think about the location and integration of the RFID symbol in the primary packaging!

Saving time and reading distance of codes

From a purely pragmatic point of view, RFID is much more practical than QR Codes. It's simple: you can scan the code of all your products at the same time from a distance. Whether it's through a box or behind a wall,RFID works! So, when doing your inventory, you don't have to take all your shampoos out of the box to count them —you walk into a room and instantly know the number of bottles. Active tags can be scanned up to  1000m away!

Another advantage: reading the labels is much easier.Whether the label is 30cm or less than 1mm, the result is the same. The scan is done quickly and efficiently.

Finally, unlike QR Codes, with RFID you can scan an infinite number of references at the same time so there is no need to take your hair care products out to scan the barcodes one by one. Scan without limits!

More concretely, Decathlon uses RFID technology at the checkout to scan an entire trolley according to the weight and magnetic frequency of the products without customers even needing to take the items out.

Less manual work means fewer errors and more time! Not to mention that RFID gives you perfect stock tracking so that you can know where each product is at any given time.

Disadvantages of the RFID chip

As all is not rosy, the RFID chip also has its drawbacks: between its investment price and its weakness in the face of certain external behaviors, RFID is not always the right solution.

The initial investment in the electronic label

This is a technology that requires a fairly large financial investment when it is installed. RFID cannot work without RFID readers and magnetic terminals, whether for active or passive tags. And getting these readers installed can sometimes be expensive.

Similarly, the price of the tags themselves varies according to your needs: the higher the reading range, the more expensive the price. To give you an idea, a passive label for a normal product costs between 0.05 and 0.1 US dollars. If you have a large stock, this can quickly become a large expense!

RFID chips, sensitive to external factors 

Based on the exchange of radio frequencies, RFID can be weakened by external factors such as humidity, liquids, and magnetized metals. This means that if you choose RFID as an identification technique for your home-made shampoos, it is essential to ensure that your packaging is strong.

If one bottle of shampoo leaks onto other bottles, there is a high risk that the microchip, which is very sensitive to liquids, will malfunction.

In the same way, RFID should be handled with care: this traceability technology can be targeted by hackers who  may try to obtain information about your products. Make sure to be careful!

Bigblue Tips : The RFID badge is a very good option if you have large volumes of orders and your data and product compositions are not sensitive.Indeed, the time that is not wasted scanning individual products can be cleverly used for other areas of your business. The cost of investing in RFID technologies can then be worth it. It all depends on you and your e-commerce!

RFID VS QR Code: digitization in the modern e-commerce era

The QR Code and RFID are two identification and traceability technologies which serve the same purpose but do not meet the same needs and problems—it all depends on the nature of the company.

The QR Code is quick to implement in an e-commerce and is also inexpensive. Very practical for a beginner e-commerce! On the other hand, if you already have a barcode system, the benefit/cost ratio may not be high enough to take the initiative to change all your products. 

RFID, on the other hand, is very effective on a large number of products. This technology helps to avoid stock and ordering errors.However, it is also more sensitive to external factors that can even make it unusable. This is the solution of the future, but it remains difficult to afford for small e-businesses.

Between QR Code and RFID, there is no perfect solution. But you can go for the one that fits closest to your needs and those of your business. Select the option that suits you!

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Julie Ribeiro
Marketing specialist and content writer at Bigblue.
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