The IoT Could Make Retailers' Dreams About RFID Come True

A startup called Stuffstr shows how consumers, with the help of a smartphone app, could be benefiting from brands embedding RFID tags into their products.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Stuffstr wants to support a circular economy, but it's not going to wait until item-level tagging becomes the norm before it starts doing so. At launch, consumers will be able to download the Stuffstr app and, at the same time, give Stuffstr permission to access their purchase histories from online retailers. (Since Stuffstr is still working on those partnerships, I won't name them here.) Later, when a consumer decides she no longer wants a given product, she can call it up on the app and Stuffstr will recommend local organizations likely to want it. (Enabling consumers to resell items directly is a feature that the app may offer down the road, but Atcheson says that Stuffstr's research on Millennials—its initial target market—shows that they're more interested in donating items than trying to resell them.)

If an item appears in any of the purchasing histories to which Stuffstr has been given access, the company will quickly and easily access the product details, making it easier for Stuffstr, as well as the consumer and the third party to whom the item will be given, to process the donation. But linking to purchasing history databases is also a key part of Stuffstr's business model. That's because the company plans to store data about items that consumers give away (or, eventually perhaps, resell) and sell this information, as aggregated data, back to the retailers that sold them. "Knowing that, say, consumers tend to get rid of this bike after X years, for example, is valuable information," Atcheson told me. In exchange for that information, Stuffstr will charge the retailer a fee.

I might give Stuffstr a whirl, because I love the concept. I'll admit, however, that at first I found it odd that one of Stuffstr's initial propositions is simply to help consumers give their stuff away. There's a Salvation Army about a mile from my house and that's where most of my donations go. If, for some reason, that seems like a chore (if it's a big, heavy item, for instance), I usually post it on Craigslist as a free item. Someone usually claims it within a few days. But, Atcheson says, Stuffstr will offer to connect consumers with the best possible recipient for each item, ensuring that the consumer (if they care—and I care, and I think a lot of consumers care) that the items will be put to the best, highest reuse.

"We've talked to lots of organizations and identified 30,000 different drop-off locations [for donations] around the country," Atcheson says. Stuffstr focuses on groups such as Cell Phones for Soldiers, or Dress for Success (which provides career consulting and business clothes for low-income women), or innovative bike reclamation programs. As it turns out, there are many organizations in need of specific types of donations for particular uses, and Stuffstr wants to make it easier for consumers to connect with those groups. That is one way to make the circular economy a reality, and it can be accomplished without much technology at all.

Still, I agree with Lauren Roman: The IoT and RFID industries need to grab the business opportunities that a circular economy provides.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of IoT Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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