RFID wristbands

RFID wristbands for cashless events

For years, events have been enamored with the idea of cashless RFID wristbands and cashless environments at music festivals, parties and other events.

  • Patrons will spend more money!
  • Queuing time will be reduced!
  • We’ll need fewer staff!
  • We’ll collect data about peoples preferences and spending levels!

It’s an attractive proposition no doubt. Used correctly, all of the above statements are true. But they come at a monetary cost and it is up to events to determine how much value they are really receiving from going cashless, or how much extra value they can generate.

How does a cashless environment work with RFID Wristbands?

Right now, the majority of events operate either a cash bar, where patrons simply use cash to buy food and drinks on the day, or a system of paper tickets. Paper tickets, or roll tickets, may be printed with a value or a specific item i.e. LIGHT BEER, SOFT DRINK etc. Patrons buy their tickets/coupons at specific booths and then redeem their vouchers at the bar. Whilst this does require queuing and time to obtain the tickets themselves, the order processing time at the bar is far more efficient because no change needs to be given.

A cashless environment is normally implemented via the use of RFID wristbands. This has become pretty popular in the US and Europe, but has yet to really make a dent in Australia. Several Australian events, small and large, have trialed RFID for access control, social media integration and brand activation strategies, but the ‘cashless’ possibilities are really yet to be explored.

RFID wristbands work in conjunction with RFID compatible event management or POS systems. The RFID wristband is basically saying, every time it is scanned, “Hey! I’m patron #12345678”. The system, having been set-up correctly in advance, recognises that any received scan from wristband #12345678 is John Smith. All this requires is that the RFID number (often called the UID) is linked to the patron within the system, which is basically just another field of data.

The patron may be provided the option of loading credit to their account in advance. Alternatively, if they have received their RFID wristbands on the day, there will be various top up booths available where the patron can load credit on to their profile.

To make a purchase, the patron simply swipes their wristbands at a POS station, and the money is deducted from their profile. Easy.

Pros of the cashless environment

Cashless environments and RFID Wristbands do simplify the logistics and processes of many elements of the event scene. Access becomes automated too assuming your event chooses that option in the system set-up.

For those events where patrons can pre-load value to their profile / RFID wristbands, the barriers to spending are removed. No queuing for tickets. No waiting for change. No queuing for drinks. Just walk up, swipe, walk away, drink, repeat. It stands to reason, and is a key selling point of the system, that this results in more spending. At the very least, it makes for a better consumer experience.

Events will have access to much more data. All transactions and activities are recorded allowing planners to know when peak times are which in turn allows them to plan staffing levels accordingly. Buying preferences can also be recorded allowing future discussion on supply, costing, prices etc.

The use of RFID wristbands opens up a world of other possibilities. We’ve addressed the opportunities that exist within the worlds of social media integration and brand activation in other articles, but they are important to discuss here also. To alleviate the cost of RFID systems, an event should look to gain every possible advantage from the technology.

Social media integration is a big one. Allowing users to scan at certain spots to update social media profiles, or to take photos and tag people by simply swiping a wristband, is a great tool. Suddenly, many event managers are measuring things like “social media reach” in their event wrap-ups, something that would have sounded crazy a few years ago.

Brand activation is providing opportunities for sponsors or other partners to set-up booths, challenges, treasure hunts, or other ways to engage with patrons and doing so via RFID. Scan here to enter a competition. Scan at these 6 points to win a prize. The possibilities are vast.

Cons of the cashless environment

For most, it’s the cost. The major cost is that of the implementation of the system itself, scanners etc. Some company’s operate on a model whereby the system is very cost effective but then they take a percentage of all spending at the event. The second additional cost is that of the wristbands. Whilst this is not a major increase, it is still something that needs to be considered within the budget.

Of course, the big argument to the cost is that people will spend more. Strangely there are not many solid statistics that support this position, but the theory makes sense. Following a long day of fun where you may have spent $92 of your $100 uploaded to the system, what percentage of people would then queue up for 15 minutes to get that $8 back, knowing that they are also facing a walk to the carpark or bus and then a one hour sit in traffic to leave the event site? Even if half the people at a 5,000 person event said ‘forget it’, that is 2,500 people gifting $8 each to the event ($20,000!). Interesting.

The other con to using RFID is that it still makes some people uncomfortable. They don’t want their activities tracked, they don’t trust the technology with their personal and bank details etc. Many of these fears are actually unfounded. Nothing at all is actually stored on the RFID wristband itself – it is literally just announcing it’s unique number remember. All the personal data is still within the systems, as it is at any other event. Also, RFID wristbands are not GPS tracking devices; you cannot be tracked by your RFID wristband unless you scan it somewhere. Only then does the system say, “John Smith is in location X”.

The final word

RFID and RFID Wristbands have been ‘the next big thing’ for years, but are only now starting to really make in-roads. In Australia, it has been used for access control and some social media and brand activation strategies. As yet, cashless environments are not common at events. In the coming months and years, this will certainly change.

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