Tis the Season for RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 02, 2011 @ 11:44 AM

Tags: RFID, Smart Displays, Retail, Item Level RFID, Smart Shelves

RFID HangerIt’s that time of year. With the holiday season in full swing, it seems like retail is the topic of choice for RFID stories lately. We last blogged about the mobile wallet and how it can enhance the check out process, which could have a huge consumer impact during this time of year.

And here's yet another way that RFID is improving the shopping experience and potentially helping boost sales. A department store in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan is the first to try out interactive hangers. When a shopper picks up a garment, RFID triggers one of the large screens above the rack to display a person modeling the clothes selected. Beyond the holiday season, this use of RFID could also have a huge impact on the back-to-school purchases, and even prom season.

Check it out here.

The hangers were developed by Tokyo tech firm Teamlab. They are regular hangers with a large central rectangle that houses the RFID tag. We didn’t find reports that included information on the RFID readers, but they could be placed on the clothing racks or ceiling mounted. The hangers can also be used to manipulate the music and lighting in the store. The diagram above depicts how the RFID system works.

We like it because it’s unobtrusive, as is the case with RFID in general. If you don’t care to see what the garment looks like on the model on the screen, simple. Don’t look up. It’s out of the way and can be easily ignored.

Many shoppers can be easily influenced by a positive image and I bet this is why retailers will like this solution. If a leather jacket looks good on the GQ model, I transfer that image to myself, I buy it and the marketer wins.

Take the concept one step further, what if the model on the screen showed us how to tie a tie or scarf and the various other ways it could be worn? That could be extremely useful, especially if it’s a new fashion trend.

This implementation of RFID reinforces that the technology can play a valuable role in all phases of the retail supply chain - from the manufacturer to the show room floor. While this use case may not be the driver for RFID being widely adopted in the retail sector, it shows that very intelligent people are thinking of creative, yet easy ways to integrate RFID into everyday processes.

Which one of your everyday activities can be enhanced with RFID?

Image Source: TechCrunch

To Tag or Not to Tag? That is the Question.

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Mar 07, 2011 @ 11:20 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Item Level RFID, Smart Shelves, Consumer Goods

Can RFID end the ongoing debate?   

grocery store stickerWe’re all pretty much accustomed to look at the price on the shelf when we want to know how much an item costs. The tags on the shelf even let us know if a certain item is on sale that week. It seems that only the smaller stores like 7-Eleven still use the orange price tag stickers on the individual items. Or maybe I see those orange stickers because I live in Massachusetts where we have an item-pricing law.

That law was news to me when I read a story in the Wall Street Journal, “In a State of Sticker Shock, Stores Try to Sell Public on a Radical Idea.” The impetus for the article is that retailers in Michigan may be close to forcing a repeal of the state’s Item Pricing Law. It’s similar to the Massachusetts law, except Michigan’s law is the broadest such law in the nation.  Retailers say that the repeal of the law could save them many valuable man hours and costs. But the labor unions and people who hold pricing jobs, say the law protects them and their livelihood.

The alternative is barcode scanning. However there is debate about whether any inaccuracies with bar code scanning could be considered unfair to the consumer.

Could RFID solve the problem and end this ongoing debate? We’ve seen how RFID can streamline operations in many industries, including retail. We’ve also seen examples of how the technology can reduce errors that typically occur in manual processes. It seems only logical that RFID could solve the price sticker dilemma.

As for the employment issue, we’ve seen how RFID will most likely not replace sales clerks, but merely shifted their responsibilities. Rather than spending time doing manual inventory in a back room, the sales clerks are out on the floor interacting with customers, encouraging more sales.

Based on the uses of RFID that we’ve seen and written about, the investment in the technology tends to help businesses grow with more efficient operations, or attract more users because of more personalized and convenient service, whatever the case may be. 

What do you think? Price tag or RFID tag?

Automating Point-of-Sale Processes with RFID

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

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

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. 

RFID Enabled Smart Shelves

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

Tags: RFID, Retail, Smart Shelves

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?

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