Why should I invest in RFID technology, when the standard for cashless payments is going to be things like Apple Pay and Google Wallet? Isn’t RFID old news?

These are the types of questions I’ve been hearing from event organisers and ticketing companies lately.

My short answer to both of these questions is: absolutely not.

If you’re pressed for time, that’s all you need to know; but if you’ve got a few minutes, you can read on to understand why mobile payments – which are definitely poised to grow and worth getting excited about – are not going to detract from the appeal of RFID technology for events.

Why Apple Pay isn’t going to replace RFID wristbands

Google initially launched its Wallet (recently rebranded as Google Pay) service in mid-2011, while Apple got on board with the release of the NFC-enabled iPhone 6 in 2014. Both of these services allow participating merchants or services to receive payments through specific contactless terminals (there’s an excellent article on Ars Technica covering more of the nitty-gritty technical details). Further advances in e-payments have been made in recent years in China, where Wechat Pay and Alipay have seen massive adoption of their QR-based mobile payment systems; and most recently the buzz is around messaging apps with the launch of WhatsApp payments in India.

With at least one of these cashless payment options available in virtually every event-goer’s pocket, it makes sense to wonder whether RFID bracelets are still necessary as a means of enabling cashless payments at events. Here are the 4 reasons why I’m convinced this won’t be the case (if I wasn’t convinced, I probably wouldn’t have launched a new RFID startup last year).

1. Mobile wallets don’t solve the same problems for consumers

The first thing to understand is just how powerful RFID technology actually is; a single wristband can be used by attendees at a music festival or food and wine tasting as:

  • An entrance ticket or VIP pass that can be scanned while the attendee is motion, from relatively far away, and without disrupting the attendee’s experience in any way;
  • A payment method to purchase food, drinks and merchandise, with a single tap;
  • A means to seamlessly connect the attendee’s physical presence at the event to their online social media profile, participate in experiential activations and immediately share the experience with the digital world.

And all of this is done through a wristband (or a badge or card) that weighs close to nothing, is on the attendee’s body either way, and generally isn’t loaded with thousands of dollars so is less worrisome to lose compared to a wallet, smartphone or credit card.

Smartphones, with all their wondrous capabilities, simply aren’t the same thing. NFC is not as robust as RFID when it comes to access control, and doesn’t offer the same benefits in terms of cutting down lines and wait times; payments aren’t as quick and often require some further identification; and attendees still need to carry their smartphone around and pull it out of their pockets for every interaction. Using your iPhone to pay at an event can often feel like lugging around a heavier version of your credit card.

From an attendee perspective, it makes much more sense to use mobile payments as a means to compliment RFID systems, rather than replace them – e.g., by using mobile wallets to top up wristbands. But trying to replace one with the other is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

RFID gives event professionals access to troves of the “oil of the 21st century” – data.

2. Apple and Google Pay don’t offer the same advantages for event organisers

Not only are RFID systems better for consumers, they’re also better for the people who work at or on events for a living: organisers, vendors and ticketing companies. This is true both for the reasons mentioned above – long lines, cumbersome payments and frustrated attendees aren’t good for anyone – but for another very important reason: RFID gives event professionals access to troves of the “oil of the 21st century” – data.

RFID technology allows organisers to capture rich, granular data about attendee behavior and purchasing habits, (anonymously) track attendee movements at the event and identify choke points and possible issues. It gives data-driven event professionals the ability to optimise many elements of future live events – creating better experiences and increasing their own revenues.

Beyond data, there are promotions that are much better suited for RFID. One example I ran into was Heineken giving away a free beer for anyone who visited the Heineken stand – by tapping attendee’s band, they activated a Heineken Coin which was redeemable around the site.

Apple Pay does not offer the same advantages, and this is one of the main reasons some of the world’s leading events are opting for RFID technology, rather than relying on the smartphones their attendees are already carrying.

3. RFID can make the entire events industry better, beyond cashless payments

As I’ve mentioned above, RFID is about more than cashless payments: it’s a means of controlling access, understanding and tracking attendees, and changing the actual experience at events. It opens up a ton of new possibilities – and it can also make events safer and more enjoyable for new audiences.

Lost children can be found through their RFID wristband; crowd dynamics can be better understood. By knowing where everyone is at all times, a festival can predict crowd surges at gates, react quicker and more efficiently to any problems that occur, and prevent everything from frustration to outright disasters caused by overcrowding.

The potential of RFID to serve as much more than a near-weightless digital wallet is yet another reason to continue working with this technology, developing new RFID-enabled products and leveraging them at a broader range of events.

Token Team

Author Token Team

Token is a global leader in RFID technology for events. With over 20 years of event experience, we provide cashless payments, access control and experiential activations to organisers all around the world.

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