The controversial radio frequency ID (RFID) tracking tags will become ubiquitous in consumer goods but privacy issues, standards and cost need to be addressed first, according to a senior executive of UK supermarket chain Safeway.

Safeway ran an RFID pilot with Unilever last year on 40,000 cases of Lynx deodorant tracking them from the factory through to the shelves of three stores and, in an exclusive interview with, Safeway CIO Ric Francis said that while the company has no immediate plans to use RFID, the pilot did enough to convince him that the technology is absolutely key to the future of the retail sector.

“We see that as a long-term investment. RFID is clearly going to be hugely important to the retail business,” he said.

Two obstacles that potentially stand in the way of the replacement barcode technology are common standards and cost, according to Francis.

“My biggest fear about RFID is that if we all try and do independent things we’ll end up with a range of standards that is not sustainable for the industry as a whole,” he said.

Once the standards are in place and the cost of the RFID chips drops, then the technology will become an unseen and accepted part of shopping, he added.

“As and when it becomes cheap enough it will be important from the consumer point of view as well,” he said. “That will start, I think, with higher value items and will come down and down throughout the sales portfolio. If these things end up being a penny a go, which I’m sure they will be at some point in time, then that will be a route to implement in a ubiquitous nature.”

That is likely to lead to protests from the privacy lobby over concerns about how the tracking data is used – concerns that will need to be addressed, said Francis.

“What that means with regard to civil liberties organisations I really don’t know. But that’s something I feel we have to overcome. As a technology industry we have to overcome,” he said.

Read the full interview with the committed West Ham United fan and former global CIO of PepsiCo later this week on

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