Fixed vs. handheld RFID reader – How to decide between two reader options in a retail environment?

The choice between fixed vs. handheld RFID readers is not always crystal clear. However, when investing in RFID technology in a retail setting, it is important to choose the right devices. The RFID readers are seldom the costliest element, but they are the part of the whole that is enabling item data to be captured. This expert article looks at retail use cases to offer some guidelines on when to choose handheld readers and when to go for fixed readers.

Item data capturing hardware should be chosen according to the need at hand. When looking at RFID from DC onwards, the different areas for RFID investment are:

  1. In transport
  2. In a store 


Different kinds of RFID readers fulfill different needs



Reading items during transport is not always necessary. Companies often rely on reading items at the following points:

  1. When leaving the DC and
  2. Upon arrival at the store.

However, if the parcel moves from one vendor to another before arriving at the store, and if there is a reason to worry about shrinkage during transport, adding reading points will make sense. In the case of transport, the reading points are most sensible when they are mobile, so they can be moved from a vehicle to another and used where ever needed.

When considering the purchase of a handheld or wearable reding device to be used in transport vehicles, the main challenge would typically be the access to the central database from the RFID device. Should the unit save all information to its permanent memory and only update data when placed in the cradle? Or should all information be online, all the time?

During transport, the upload and download of information will have to rely on mobile phone networks; typically 3G, 4G, or wifi. As there are always blind spots, this should be considered at the point of purchase. Most mobile devices available have methods of handling the data transmission over these networks and the best units make sure the data is safe even when a network connection might be missing. However, different operating systems and device manufacturers have different methods for this. Therefore, it is important to choose an application for a mobile device that supports data security. Secured access to the database should carry no extra cost no matter the device.

All-in-one readers, handheld devices with integrated RFID readers, might offer better performance than a mobile phone in combination with an external RFID reader enhancement.



Most users of RFID combine handheld and fixed readers in the store. Next, we describe different RFID use cases, which reader type would be most suitable, and why.




Choose fixed when:

  • Receiving several boxes with hard-to-read items (such as jewelry or women’s underwear)
  • No space limitation

Choose handheld when:

  • Receiving batches of 1-10 boxes a day
  • You have limited space for the goods receiving process, or the size of the space varies greatly from store to store
  • The investment of fixed readers and installation would be too expensive



Choose fixed when:

  • Minimizing human error is a priority
  • Space is not a limitation and enough space can be allocated to ensure that the stock can be reliably scanned for registry
  • Well placed fixed readers are likely to give a more accurate read than handhelds
  • The frequency of deliveries is not dense, so scanning incoming goods is not taking too much time.

Choose handheld when:

  • Installing fixed readers is not possible, for example, due to cabling, space limitations or the location of the backroom
  • Investing in fixed readers would be too expensive.
  • The amount of goods is not too large to scan by hand.


Choosing handhelds or fixed readers depends on the process. When just re-writing information on existing tags, it is possible to use handheld devices to take care of the tag updates. This also saves costs. When there is a need to create new tags, for instance, it might be more efficient to have a separate printer in the store. Typically, both the PoS application and handheld devices enable items to be re-tagged.


Handheld devices are best suited for use cases where staff moves around on the shop floor and/or the tagged item could be anywhere in a specific area. Such applications are:

  • Inventory & Cycle count (counting all stock)
  • Locate (finding items with the help of RFID)



When RFID reading (and writing) always takes place in the same area, a fixed reader is a good choice. Such operations are:

  • Point-of-Sale / Point-of-Exit (recognizing the items that are leaving the store)
  • Fitting room area (recognizing items that have been taken to the fitting room or other specific areas in the store)


Interested to learn more about how a user affects the reader? Check out our expert article.


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