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The complete guide to RFID

If you want to know more about RFID for events and how RFID technology can work for your industry, then you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve published a fair few articles, blogs and resources on the subject of cashless RFID, helping event and venue organisers to understand the possibilities with this technology. However all the information was a bit unorganised. 

That’s why we have created this guide. It’s here to help you on your journey to implementing cashless RFID technology for your business. This page is your gateway to knowing all there is to know about cashless RFID for events and venues.

Using this guide, you’ll get the complete overview of RFID technology:

 

    1. Understand what RFID is and how it works
    2. Strategic uses of RFID technology at events and venues 
    3. The key benefits of RFID payment systems
    4. The big numbers - what organisers can expect from implementing RFID
    5. RFID wristbands and bracelets
    6. RFID vs contactless cards. Why choose one over the other? 
    7. Key metrics you should be tracking at RFID events
    8. The costs of an RFID payment system
    9. RFID revenue calculator

1. What is RFID?

RFID technology can be found everywhere. It powers the key fob used to gain entry into an office building, it’s used for microchipping pets, retailer Decathlon uses RFID for self-service checkouts, and today RFID is used at events and venues across an increasingly diverse range of industries. But what exactly is RFID technology?

RFID, short for Radio Frequency Identification, is a technology that enables the wireless non-contact use of radio frequency waves to transfer data. 

Data is transmitted from a RFID tag to a RFID reader, which can then be transmitted to a computer programme. This one-way conversation between the RFID reader and RFID tag is all done without the need for physical contact.

RFID tags can be read without line of sight and depending on which type of RFID is used, tags can still be read up to 20+ metres away. RFID tags can be embedded in a range of wearables and devices including most commonly RFID wristbands and bracelets, lanyards, cards or passes.

Not only does the technology continue to improve year over year, but the cost of implementing and using an RFID system continues to decrease. These changes have made RFID a more cost-effective and efficient technology.

Is RFID the same as NFC?

It’s worth considering NFC technology as a subset of RFID - but there are some key differences.

NFC, short for near field communication, is a newer technology - it’s been around since 2002 - and is similar to RFID in a number of ways. Both are wireless technologies and both can be used as a way to easily store and transmit information between devices. 

NFC allows users to make secure transactions, exchange digital content and connect electronic devices with a touch. The most common application of NFC technology is contactless cards - when you tap the card reader to pay for an item, the chip and PIN device reads the NFC chip in your contactless card to take the payment. 

All of today’s smartphones come embedded with NFC technology allowing users to tap and go when making payments via Apple Pay for example. 

The main differences between these technologies is that while RFID is a one-way communication technology, NFC allows two-way conversation between the NFC reader and the NFC tag. And unlike RFID, NFC only operates at very small distances, so the reader and tag need to be within about 10cm (4 inches) of each other to work.

What is an RFID payment system?

With the exception of drink tokens Cashless RFID payments are possibly the first evolution of closed loop cashless technology and are often used at festivals and large-scale events. 

A closed loop payment system means the system operates without any third party (banks) involvement. Instead the end users (event attendees and vendors) directly join the payments system. 

The RFID technology is typically embedded into a wristband or bracelet but can in fact be added to a whole range of items - lanyards, season tickets, RFID cards, vehicle passes and stickers for example. 

When participants, guests and fans scan the chip, they pay for their food, drink and merchandise instantly. The account balance is held on the chip and the cost of any goods paid-for is deducted from the available balance.

RFID bracelets are the most common consumable used to store RFID tags. RFID wristbands can be used for cashless payments, for access control, brand amplification and to enhance safety and security. 

2. Strategic uses of RFID technology at events and venues 

 

The use of RFID at events has grown in popularity since 2016. Whilst the large festivals were the first movers, RFID technology is no longer just about the big music festivals. Today we’re starting to see a whole range of industries adopt RFID technology, including sports stadiums & arenas, exhibitions, hotels and resorts, theme parks and attractions.

Nor is RFID wristband technology just used for cashless payments. The main uses of RFID technology tend to be focused on three distinct areas - RFID for cashless payments, RFID for access control & zone management and RFID for brand activation. Let's go into a bit more detail.

Cashless payments

RFID allows cash to be completely removed from your event or venue. Instead of paying by cash, contactless cards or mobile payments, guests simply preload an account with credit. This credit is then activated on an RFID tag - typically an RFID wristband. Guests simply place their RFID bracelet near an RFID reader to pay for their drinks, food and merchandise and the cost is deducted from their bracelet.

Access control

An RFID tag attached to a wristband or other consumable can hold a lot of information so it’s not just limited to cashless payments. RFID technology can also be used for access control and zone management. VIP, restricted areas and backstage access can all be easily controlled via the RFID wristband or bracelet. Real-time data and insights allows you to quickly identify bottlenecks and deploy additional staff to the areas that need it. Ultimately, Access control promotes a safer environment for everyone involved.

Brand amplification

The world is becoming increasingly digital and brand partnerships have become the mainstay of live events. As a result, event organisers are looking for new and innovative ways to amplify brand sponsorships.

RFID brand amplification offers the opportunity to bridge the digital & real world to bring sponsors and fans closer together and deliver sponsors with real-world data to prove ROI. 

For more information on the use cases for RFID technology, take a look at the following blog post.

 

Further reading: RFID technology at events - why it's not just cashless payments

3. The key benefits of using RFID for events 

 

RFID technology is increasingly commonplace across a wide range of industries. The reason for this growth is due to the large number of benefits this technology delivers. There are both tangible and intangible benefits of RFID - here’s a quick summary.

Benefits for organisers

  • Boost profitability through increased spend per head, faster  transaction times, shorter lines and preloaded funds.
  • Real-time data insights which can be used to further drive revenue.
  • Reduce your operating costs - no cash handling, improved access control and zone management.
  • Improve on-site safety.
  • Eliminate fraud and theft. 
  • Maximise sponsorship opportunities.

Benefits for guests

  • Faster moving, shorter lines. 
  • Enhanced safety and security as there’s no need to carry cash. 
  • Improve hygiene & Covid safety.

 

4. Some key statistics from events that have gone cashless with RFID

 

When deciding whether or not to invest in a technology such as cashless RFID, those intangible benefits are really important, but ultimately the decision comes down to the numbers. After all, it’s only worth investing in RFID technology if you see the return on investment. And we do, time and time again.  

We’ve implemented RFID technology all over the world, at a wide range of events and venues. As a result, we know what good looks like and we can share with you some key benchmarks. These are the big numbers that our clients realise when they implement RFID for events. Here’s a snapshot:

 

  • 22% - 30% uplift in revenue
  • 80% faster transactions when compared to cash
  • 45 transactions processed per minute during peak periods
  • RFID users spend twice as much as cash users
  • Unprecedented audience insights

Download the infographic for an overview of the key statistics from events that have successfully gone cashless.

Further reading: RFID for events infographic

5. RFID wristbands and bracelets

An RFID bracelet uses a ‘smart tag’ embedded in the wristband itself which stores and transmits information to an RFID reader. Most commonly in the festival industry, RFID tags are often attached to wristbands or bracelets, but whatever your event, there are many options for storing RFID tags. RFID tags can also be embedded into many other products such as name badges, membership cards, keyrings and more. We’ve even seen an RFID tag embedded into nail polish!

The cost of the RFID consumable is built into the quotation you’ll receive. There are ways to mitigate this cost however. Organisers can incorporate the cost into the ticket price for example or provide this as an additional asset for sponsors.

How it works

Here’s a video explaining how RFID bracelets work in practice:

 

HubSpot Video

 

 

 

When it comes to sourcing the wristbands and arranging any branding etc, we do all that on your behalf. We have an approved list of RFID bracelet suppliers that we work with on a regular basis. 

Whilst RFID bracelets are the mechanism by which cashless payments can be made possible they can do so much more. RFID wristbands can also be used to store other useful information which enhances safety and security for your guests and staff alike. 

For example, the information that can be stored on an RFID bracelet, in addition to a person’s available credit could also include emergency contact information, medical details or access to restricted areas. With one simple tap, the relevant information can be easily accessed by a steward if a child is lost, or someone requires emergency assistance.

We implemented ‘safety wristbands’ for a family-friendly festival we supported back in 2019. Over 75% of attendees uploaded their childs’ emergency contact information to their wristband - the functionality was clearly a winner with families.

Further reading: Tappit launches new RFID wristband safety functionality 

6. Contactless cards vs cashless RFID payments

 

Now you’re more familiar with RFID technology, it’s use cases and benefits, we turn our attention to comparing contactless payments vs RFID cashless payments. 

Contactless cards are after all ubiquitous, people know how to use them and they reduce contact with terminals, cash and vendors. 

In the UK, the contactless limit is now £100, whilst in the US it’s around $100 depending on the vendor. As contactless limits have increased as a result of the global pandemic, that’s at least one disadvantage of contactless cards which has been removed in some countries.

However, there are a number of clear advantages that RFID cashless payments have over contactless cards.

RFID works 100% offline, it avoids network connection issues - no internet required!

This is one of the main reasons why music festivals, which run on greenfield sites with 1000’s of people in attendance, have made the move to cashless RFID. Contactless cards still need a stable internet connection. And that can be a major issue on greenfield sites or busy spaces. In order to maintain a stable internet connection, investment is often required in mobile wifi - but it’s still not an ideal solution.

So many opportunities to maximise revenue…..

Breakage revenue, pre-event top ups, the additional money people spend when they use RFID wristbands instead of cash (on average 22% more), sponsorship revenue. These streams all contribute to driving additional revenue for your event.

And reduce your operational costs……

When cash is removed from your event or venue, so are all costs associated with cash handling. Theft and fraud is eliminated, reconciliation is fast and easy.

It’s all about the data

When you use contactless cards, all that purchase data goes to the banks. When you use a closed loop payment system like cashless RFID, you get the data. And that unlocks a huge opportunity.

If you want to understand fan behaviours and how to make the event perfect for them - then RFID offers the best value.

Further reading: Contactless vs cashless payments - what’s the difference and which is best?

 

7. Key metrics you should be tracking at RFID events

 

The powerful data that you get from going cashless can sometimes be an afterthought to event organisers who are looking to implement RFID technology. However, the data holds powerful insights which can be used to drive further revenue and reduce your operational costs.

A great RFID system will come with a powerful data platform which connects all of your disparate systems. With a single data interface, one that's user friendly and powerful, you can spend your time actioning all those business insights to drive further revenue, elevate the fan experience and drive operational efficiencies.

With that in mind, take a look at the blog post below where we've compiled a list of our top 6 metrics which you must track in order to get the most value out of your RFID system. 

Further reading: 6 key RFID metrics you should be tracking

 

8. The cost of implementing RFID at events

 

So we’ve discussed what RFID technology is, and the benefits of implementing an RFID payments system for event organisers and guests alike, let’s now move our attention to the cost.

When assessing the cost of an RFID system you need to consider the fixed costs (these will be largely dependent upon the event size, duration and level of support required) but also factor in the expected uplifts in revenue and cost savings you can expect.

Additionally, your cost-benefit analysis also needs to take account of the fixed costs of running a cash & card event instead - costs that are eliminated by implementing a RFID cashless event.

The blog post below goes into more detail about the costs of implementing an RFID payment system. We discuss the factors that are used when building an RFID quotation, the uplifts an events organiser should expect from going cashless and how to assess the return on investment.

 

Further reading: The cost of implementing an RFID system

9. RFID revenue calculator

 

When considering the investment in RFID technology, a cost-benefit analysis is crucial. After all, you need to be assured that the cost, time and effort is going to be worth it. If you’re looking for some indicative numbers on the amount of additional revenue you can expect to make from going cashless with RFID, then take a look at our RFID revenue calculator.


With that in mind, it’s worth trying our RFID revenue calculator. Input a few details about your event and you’ll receive an estimated value of the potential savings, increased revenue and additional profit that can generally be achieved when going cashless with RFID.

Note: These estimates are based on the average increase in spend across our existing clients and are purely indicative.

Further reading: RFID revenue calculator: Here's everything you need to know

Summary

If you’re serious about increasing your revenue, reducing your costs and elevating the guest experience through RFID, we’d recommend you read this guide and the associated blogs. We’ve tried to make it as concise and jargon-free as possible.

Every business is different and has its own unique challenges. We haven’t published this guide to replace conversations - we’d love to hear from you! So, if you’d like to know more about the costs of implementing RFID or what the potential benefits could be for your business then get in touch.

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