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Krause Outlet Takes Window-Shopping to the Ultimate Level

The German retailer uses RFID to display information about each garment presented in its store windows, enabling a consumer to buy that exact item on the spot, via a vending machine.
By Rhea Wessel
Feb 03, 2009Serendipity, creativity and years of patience are the basis for a clever application that utilizes radio frequency identification to operate a 24-hour automated fashion show in store windows. The system, employed by a retail store in an industrial park in northern Germany, displays information regarding each garment, thereby allowing shoppers to use their mobile phones to reserve the clothes they see, then purchase those outfits via a vending machine.

Erwin Krause owns Krause Outlet, a warehouse and store that sells off-season men's and women's brand-name fashions that it buys from retailers eager to reduce inventory. The store often has individual items rather than full sets of all sizes and colors of a particular garment. Before Krause implemented RFID, customers had to wait for up to two weeks before purchasing items displayed in one of its windows. A clerk would manually write down the shopper's name and telephone number, then call when that item was taken out of the window and became available for purchase. Krause realized decades ago that this was hurting sales, however, and dreamed of a system that would enable him to have clothing constantly on display in the store window, even if items were selling quickly.

Krause Outlet

As luck would have it, Krause's neighbor, Wilhelm Stock, was an expert in automation technology for a large energy company. Together, Krause and Stock began to design a way for Krause's dream to become reality. The two contacted Duerkopp Fördertechnik), a company in Bielefeld that manufactures automated hanging racks, to discuss a system. Stock then set up a small firm to consult with Krause's store on building a system.

Krause and Stock began implementing the idea in 2005, when Krause's company moved into a new building in an industrial zone in Düren, a village near Cologne. The system became fully operational in late 2008.

When window-shopping at Krause Outlet, a customer may find himself lingering longer than expected. Instead of the usual mannequin or folded items, the patron will see articles of clothing moving by on a 56-meter-long (184-foot-long) automated hanging rack. The high-end, brand-name items are spaced approximately 2.4 meters (8 feet) apart on the rack.

As each piece of apparel—a Hugo Boss jacket or coat, for instance—reaches the window, the automated rack stops and turns that item around 180 degrees, and a nearby RFID interrogator reads the passive high-frequency (HF) tag attached to the garment. The tag's unique ID number is linked to data regarding the item, as well as its picture, enabling related information and the picture to pop up on a computer screen in the store window. Customers can read about the item's size, brand and original price, along with Krause Outlet's price and a code that can be used to reserve the item for purchase.

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