Automating Point-of-Sale Processes with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 @ 12:09 PM

An End to the Supermarket Checkout Line?

Those of us who have young children know how painful it can be waiting in line at the supermarket. Not only are we dealing with a child who has reached the end of his rope from being told “please don’t crash the cart,” “put that cereal back,” and “don’t run down the aisles,” but at the checkout line it’s a whole new level of combat. Now you have to outsmart the marketing folks who have mastered Point-of-Purchase strategy by getting you to buy candy, gum and assorted trinkets (and the National Enquirer for yourself) to keep you and the kids happy while you’re waiting in line.

MediaCartUsing shopping carts as a "vehicle" for an RFID-enabled solution is not new. By leveraging ThingMagic’s embedded RFID technology Media Cart Holdings, Inc. developed a proof of concept designed to increase store sales and customer loyalty and enable marketers to obtain anonymous, point of sale consumer behavior data to improve advertising effectiveness.

But the shopping experience can get even better. The idea of putting grocery items in a shopping cart and walking out the door without going through a check-out line was reported by USA Today in 2001 and it’s actually not that far-fetched.

The bar codes that already exist on each product could be replaced with printable RFID tags like those developed by researchers from the Sunchon National University, South Korea in collaboration with Rice University in Houston, Texas.  The result of their joint project is an inexpensive, printable transmitter that could be embedded in packaging. Printable RFID tags are practical because they're passive. Meaning the tags only transmit data when they’re activated by radio waves from an RFID reader. In that instant, they return the information contained in the tag.

With RFID customers fill their carts as usual, but instead of going to find an open cashier, they walk past an RFID reader on their way out the door. The reader reads all of items in the cart in seconds and transacts the purchase against a pre-selected account. There will most likely be other options available too, like signing for your purchases at a kiosk once your total is displayed. Combining this point-of-sale data with data gathered from RFID readers at product shelf locations, retailers could also record the changes to the store's inventory and automatically submit replenishment orders to their suppliers.

Researchers admit there are some hurdles to widespread, retail adoption. The printable tags must be no larger than the size of current bar codes and the read range must increase. With the progress made to date in the read range of passive UHF RFIDS tags, as noted in our blog that introduced this campaign, this idea maybe a reality very soon.

What then? What happens to Point-of-Purchase displays? Where will the tabloid magazines go? Let us know your thoughts of what the supermarket of the future might look like by leaving a comment here. 

Tags: RFID, Retail, Smart Shelves, Point of Sale

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