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Display-Maker Integrates RFID for Security, Inventory Apps

Smart RFID-enabled display cases can help retailers boost store security, track inventory and improve merchandising, says vendor.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 27, 2007Just about every retail store uses surveillance cameras as a security tool. Now 5Stat, a security division of retail cabinetry and display systems supplier Store Kraft, is offering a way for retailers to use RFID to add a layer of intelligence to camera systems—while also gathering data used in inventory tracking and store merchandising.

The new offering, INCOMPASS, is designed for item-level tagging of small, high-value products, such as jewelry or watches, stored in Store Kraft display cases. The platform is built on an RFID-based access control system for the security cases, which 5stat began selling to Macy's and other retailers more than a year ago.

A high frequency (13.56 MHz) ISO-15693 RFID interrogator made by Feig Electronic controls a lock that secures the display cabinet. An employee who needs to open the cabinet to remove, say, a ring or bracelet for a customer, presents an RFID key fob containing a ISO-15693 transponder from Texas Instruments to the interrogator. The system then checks the ID encoded to the fob against a database and sends a digital signal to unlock the cabinet.

With INCOMPASS, the Texas Instruments HF tags are built into hangtags attached to each product inside the RFID-secured cabinet. As each tagged product is placed into the cabinet, antennas built into the base of the cabinet pick up the ID encoded to each tag. The reader is controlled by GlobeRanger iMotion RFID software, which performs a scan of the tags inside the cabinet on a regular basis. Data is collected in iMotion, from which the retailer may choose to pull the inventory updates into its existing inventory platform.

INCOMPASS's security feature kicks in whenever a store employee removes a tagged product from the cabinet. IMotion tracks the amount of time that the product is outside the interrogation zone within the cabinet. Employees place jewelry onto a felt-lined tray after removing it from the cabinet. If another reader built into the base of the tray does not detect the removed tag, this could signal a possible employee theft. Moreover, if the reader inside the tray does not detect a tag within 10 seconds of it being removed from the cabinet's read zone (indicating the employee is not showing the item to a customer), the iMotion software sends an alert to the software that the retailer uses to control its cameras. This alert instructs the camera system to train an available camera in the vicinity of the Store Kraft case and the area around it. It can also be set up to send an alert to store security so they can patrol the area.

If the tray's reader detects the tagged product, and if that same product is not detected again by the cabinet reader within 20 seconds of it leaving the tray's read zone (indicating the customer is no longer viewing it but it has not been put back in the cabinet), iMotion sends an alert to the camera system and the security staff. This provides the retailer improved visibility into the area around the case whilst the customer has a tagged item in his or her possession. If, for example, the employee leaves the customer unattended while that person has the tagged item, the retailer will be able to keep a close watch on the customer.

Larry Chandler, vice president of business development for GlobeRanger, explains that a third application of the INCOMPASS platform is improved product merchandising. Retailers can analyze the real-time inventory data collected within iMotion to track how often products are being removed from the display case and handled, and how many items are later sold.

If the data shows that some brands of items, or items within certain price brackets or some styles of items, are not removed from the cabinet within 30 days, a retailer might decide to place some of those items on sale, or place them in a different section of the store. "Maybe the item is too expensive [for store patrons], or maybe it's just not clearly visible in the cabinet, so customers aren't asking for it," he says. 5stat is in discussions with a jewelry retailer and a large department store to plan in-store pilot tests of the INCOMPASS platform.
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