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SPAR Uses RFID to Track Promotional Displays

The supplier of merchandising services to product manufacturers and retailers is involved in several pilots employing active tags to provide real-time status reports and alerts.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 25, 2007SPAR, a supplier of merchandising and other marketing services to retailers and product manufacturers, is testing RFID technology in retail locations to track promotional displays, as well as personnel entering and exiting stores to help maintain those displays.

The two-pronged solution, SPARTrac, tracks personnel and promotional displays in stores to provide retailers and suppliers easy access to information about the displays' locations and when they arrived there. SPAR's labor-tracking system, consisting of RFID badges and Web-based tracking software, enables SPAR, retailers and product manufacturers to determine the date and time SPAR employees enter a store, as well as how long they are there and the sections of the store in which they dedicate their time. The entire solution being piloted, says Kori Belzer, SPAR's chief operating officer, is intended to give retailers and suppliers actionable information about the way store merchandise is being handled, and to provide alerts whenever a matter needs attending to.

Headquartered in Tarrytown, N.Y., SPAR has personnel who visit stores in 11 countries to provide support in setting up promotional displays, identify low-stock or out-of-stock items on shelves, apply shelf labels and prepare planograms (diagrams illustrating how products should be displayed). Approximately 4,500 SPAR merchandising specialists visit stores in the United States on any given day, for a total of about 1.5 million annual visits. SPAR prepares reports for stores and product suppliers about the work being done, noting any action that might need to be taken. With the use of RFID, Belzer says, these reports could be automated, providing SPAR and its clients with real-time visibility into the locations of promotional displays and SPAR employees in the store, as well as the time those workers spend there.

The RFID pilots involve multiple undisclosed retailers, Belzer says—one in South Africa and several in the United States—and consist of tracking DVD products and other unnamed items in promotional displays, as well as tracking personnel.

In the case of labor tracking, each participating SPAR representative wears an active 433 MHz RFID-enabled ID badge, provided by Wavetrend. In the South African pilot, says Panos Mastrogiannis, SPAR's vice president of IT, 50 to 60 SPAR employees wear the badges while working up to three separate shifts at the single participating store. An employee entering the store passes one of about seven RFID interrogators deployed around the site. The reader captures each badge's unique ID number, associated with the specific employee, and sends that number via a cabled connection to a computer, along with its own identifying number.

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