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The Pros and Cons of RFID Tags for Wash Memberships

Alternatives to RFID You Should Consider

Looking to setup a membership program for your wash and trying to figure out the best way to make it all work?

Having spoken with wash owners all over the globe, we've heard the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to RFID and we'll go through all of that right now...

First things first, what exactly is RFID?

RFID 101

RFID stands for "Radio-Frequency IDentification" and it usually involves a small tag with a unique ID that is placed inside someone's vehicle as well as a reader device that detects when the tag is within its range. If you've ever driven on a highway with a "toll pass" or "E-Zpass" tag in your vehicle to avoid stopping at a toll booth to pay the attendant, then you've experienced RFID before.

The main benefit of RFID is higher throughput since the customer doesn't need to slow down or stop in order to be recognized by the RFID scanner. This benefit is especially important for tunnel washes where the goal is to move the maximum number of vehicles down the conveyor per hour.

RFID Challenges

While this may sound like a no-brainer for tunnel washes, think again. Here are some of the hidden "costs" to running an RFID tag-based membership program that you should ponder carefully.

Installation Woes
To start with, you're introducing a new piece of hardware into your operations, and more pieces of hardware means more potential points of failure. Are you going to rely on your customers to install the RFID tag themselves? If you go down this path, then you'll run the high risk of the customer incorrectly installing the tag and then needing to have one of your staff members remove and reinstall a new tag. This happens a lot more than you may think for washes that rely on their customers to install the tags. It also introduces the big risk that the customer doesn't actually install it on their windshield at all, and just passes the tag around to others for use.

Are you going to have one of your employees install the tags? Be careful, we've heard many reports directly from wash owners who have had claims placed by customers because the attendant scratched their dashboard or got dirt or oil on the fabric inside their car when the tag was being installed. You're also incurring the labor cost of having a staff member actually execute this monotonous step.

Extra Hardware Costs
There's also the added cost of this hardware. While a few dollars per RFID tag may not seem like a lot in itself, it starts to add up quickly if you do a high volume of monthly subscribers. In fact, some of the larger tunnel operators with multiple sites will easily spend six figures just on RFID tags alone!

Newer Vehicles
To further complicate the RFID puzzle, many of the newest vehicles on the market are now equipped with "smart windshields", heated windshields, or windshields with thicker-than-normal glass which make it very difficult for RFID scanners to actually read the tags. Teslas, for instance, are just one example of the type of modern vehicle where this problem happens regularly. Some wash owners are actually forced to install the RFID tag on the outside of these types of vehicles (e.g. on the front license plate or on the driver side mirror) just so they can be read! You can guess what happens in this scenario. Yup, since the tag is outside the car, the wash is going to eventually damage it or it will be prone to theft or other damage. So much for speeding up the line at the entrance to the tunnel, eh? We'll see a lot more of this in the years to come.

Windshield Cleaners
If your RFID wash customers are cleaning the inside of their vehicle and happen to use an ammonia-based cleaning solution while wiping down the interior windshield, there is a very good chance they will damage the tag and render it useless. Tags are sensitive to certain types of cleaners, and damaged tags means more hassle for your operation as well as for your customers when they show up at the wash and their tag doesn't scan.

Interference
In some cases, we've heard wash owners complain that E-ZPass RFID tags in some vehicles cause interference with the RFID tag their car wash installed in the customer's vehicle, which prevents a proper read. And while most RFID tags will "self-destruct" when they are removed from a windshield by tearing into pieces, we've also seen and heard of many customers use a sharp razor blade to carefully remove the tag and stick it on a piece of paper which can then be passed around. Granted, usually a small percentage of wash members will attempt this type of stunt, but it goes to show that RFID tags are not a bulletproof solution. The scanners are also not 100% reliable which means that even if you have a correctly installed tag with a "normal" windshield, there's still a non-zero chance that the tag won't be read.

Lost Marketing Opportunity
Perhaps one of the biggest losses with an RFID membership program is something that's not quite as visible -- the lost marketing opportunity. We've heard several wash operators with RFID membership programs share their grief that once a member has that tag on their vehicle, they virtually go off their grid. The tagged members just drive through the wash, never roll down their window, and there is no built-in way with RFID tags to communicate back with those members unless you perhaps tried to capture their email address at sign up... and email marketing is no longer the most effective way to reach a target audience with email view rates hovering around 20% these days. How will you communicate time-sensitive offers to these members? How will you incentivize them to get their family and friends into your program as well? Unfortunately, RFID has no solution for these problems.

RFID Alternatives

So what are the alternatives? At Beacon Mobile, our native car wash mobile app platform can support most existing RFID programs on the market if this is the path you'd like to pursue and still reap the benefits of our app solution, but we also have a rock solid app-based model for wash memberships. Under the app-based wash membership program, no additional hardware is needed. The customer's smartphone becomes the point of activation of the wash as well as the payment portal for your membership program. It even helps to automate a lot of the common tasks of a membership program, such as changing wash plans, updating your credit card on file, or (sadly) requesting a cancellation of the membership.

Interested in learning more? We conduct personalized demos for free on our entire car wash marketing and sales platform all the time and would love to give you a closer look. Just click the button below to head to the Demo Signup Form and we'll contact you to setup a convenient time for the demo!

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