RFID Enabled Smart Shelves

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Aug 05, 2010 @ 09:52 AM

Out of Stock?  I’m Out of Here!

In the current economy, retail businesses are challenged with increased pressures to continue growing their store over store revenues while containing and reducing costs.  Stores have adjusted their work days to reduce costs, redundant staff has been laid off and inventories have been leaned along other cuts to help stores survive a drop in consumer spending.  Despite these changes, a process retail stores must remain invested in to be successful is accurately inventorying its products.  In order to ensure items are available when a shopper wants them, valuable store labor is spent counting items, replenishing low stock and dealing with over-stocks.

One innovation which is helping retailers address these issues and streamline retail floor efficiency is the ‘Smart Shelf’.  Smart shelves - or wireless inventory control systems - use RFID tags and readers to scan the contents of display and stock shelves and alert store employees when product levels are running low or when theft is detected.  Data feeds from smart shelves can also be integrated into inventory management and supply chain systems to help with overall inventory analysis, determine purchase trends and monitor in-store promotions.

Minneapolis based Seeonic Inc., has developed smart shelf equipment and corresponding software to incorporate into a store display or fixture.  Their product named SightWare, integrates ThingMagic’s M5e Readers and some of the thinnest and lightest antennas ever made.  Up to sixteen of these tiny antennas can be connected at once, providing 100% read rates and complete product visibility.  Seeonic’s corresponding data management software, Seeniq, processes all of the data and enables access on the web to both suppliers and retailers with real time visibility of exactly what is on the shelves and more importantly – what is not.  A demonstration of Seeonic’s shelf reading technology can be seen in a video they created at the University of Arkansas.

Seeonic Smart Shelves in Action

Tomorrow's MotherIn 2008, maternity clothing supplier Tomorrow’s Mother turned to Seeonic to help them improve their business. With Seeonic’s smart shelf solution, Tomorrow’s Mother was able to monitor and manage their current in-stock levels online and could ship out garments before any inventory problems arose.  The four by five foot display racks incorporates a single RFID reader with a 2 foot read range which calculates if an item is no longer available for sale.  Data from the reader can then be analyzed along with point of sale data to determine how many items were actually purchased and stocked, allowing the retailer to make sure the display was optimally inventoried. Over time the real time data can provide both the retailer and the manufacturer a tempo to consumer demand which was previously unavailable to them and most importantly help them better plan their forecasting and replenishment cycles.

RFID-enabled smart shelves, medical cabinets and other storage units offer great promise for improving item-level inventory management for retail, pharmaceutical, library and many other markets.  Combined with smart displays and other innovations throughout the supply chain, we’re moving a step closer to the next revolution in wireless and mobility – where significant process improvements and unique personal experiences are realized through the use of RFID and sensing technologies.

What are your thoughts on where smart shelves will have the biggest impact?  We’d like to hear from retailers and other users too.  What needs do you have related to RFID performance and smart shelf design?

Tags: RFID, Retail, Smart Shelves

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