Why NFC tags will not replace the barcode: Millions of products would need re-design


In our previous post in our “barcode vs. NFC” blog series, we talked about the prohibitive cost of NFC tags as replacements for barcodes on consumer products. In today’s post, we’ll discuss the number “two” reason why we believe that NFC tags won’t replace barcodes any time soon on product packaging: the need to redesign packaging for millions of different products.

Ideally, NFC tags could simply be attached to existing product packaging. In reality, these tags only work reliably when placed in free space or on radio-frequency-friendly materials such as paper or cardboard packaging. An ordinary NFC tag placed close to a metal cannot be read. Dielectrics such as various liquids also affect the readability of NFC tags and reduce the read range. As a result, consumer goods manufacturers would need to find custom technical solutions for many individual products to guarantee the readability of the NFC tag attached. For a manufacturer with thousands of different products in different form factors, this ends up being a very costly design exercise.

Integrating the NFC tag attachment process into the packaging process is no piece of cake either. Consumer goods manufacturers have optimized their packaging process to deliver maximum throughput for minimal cost. Barcodes are ideal in this sense because they can just be printed onto the product packaging–just like the text on the rest of the product packaging. The reliable attachment of NFC tags, which are comprised of a copper coil and a microchip, would need a completely new process step operating at the high throughput steps of a production line–a costly undertaking with uncertain outcome.

We don’t see why consumer goods manufacturers would be willing to commit the extensive resources necessary to such an NFC tagging effort. In our next post, we’ll address another important reason why NFC will not replace the barcode on consumer goods product any time soon: the lack of B2B Benefits associated with NFC.