What may be beyond wireless communications as we know them today? We already have communication through radio frequency identification tags (RFIDs)—the technology now in use in ExxonMobil’s Speedpass and the E-ZPass highway tollbooth systems. Futurists see the time when billions of these plastic tags, the size of postage stamps, will be out there communicating, infiltrating business and everyday life to a greater extent than today’s personal computers, cell phones, or e-mail. In decades to come, they say, the impact of the RFID might be as fundamental as the invention of the light bulb. Arno Penzias, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and one-time head of Bell Labs, has this microcosmic scenario:
You lose your eyeglasses. They’ve fallen under the family room couch. The tag on your eyeglasses connects with a reader in the family room. You sit at your computer and type in a search box: “Where are my eyeglasses?” A reader sends out a signal looking for tags. The signal excites the tag on your eyeglasses. The computer responds: “Under the couch.”
We don’t have to wait for Penzias’s scenario to play out. Products like The i-SPOT Personal Items Locator by Digital Innovations and FINDIT an electronic locator device made by Ambitious Ideas are already on the market, and the Sharper Image has a product called, The Now You Can Find It Electronic Locator. All of these use radio frequencies to pinpoint the location of lost items within twenty to forty feet, emitting a tone when a button is pressed on the transmitter. With the average American spending sixteen minutes a day looking for lost items, this could be a big market.[18 ]The Personal Items Locator and FINDIT can’t yet be credited with CMR, but ideas like this often lead to innovative customer relationships.
It’s a long journey from a digital divorce in Malaysia, to an Olympian’s phone call from Salt Lake City to her mother, to “pull” technology in Lands’ End’s home in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, to a supermarket in London, to the Friendly Skies. There is not much you can’t do wirelessly today. Lands’ End, Safeway, and United Airlines are truly beginning to allow customers to manage the business relationship through the use of new technology. Whether your customer wants to shop online with her sister, order groceries from a magnet on her refrigerator, manage a 401(k) plan, find out if a parts order has arrived, or use a PC to find his eyeglasses, it will be vital for marketers to understand these new wireless tools and learn to use them to give the customer the power to do what the customer wants to do—on the customer’s terms.
Kevin Maney, “New Chips Could Make Everyday Items ‘Talk’,” eCommerce Times, April 12, 2002, pp. 2, 4.
[18 ]Katherine Balint, “Nothing to Lose,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, May 13, 2002, pp. E1, E14.