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Alliance, Seeonic, UPM Raflatac Collaborate on Item-Level Retail Display

The RFID-enabled system uses EPC Gen 2 tags to allow retailers and product suppliers to track not only new promotional displays, but also the individual items they contain.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 24, 2009Alliance, the merchandising and displays division of Rock-Tenn Co. (one of North America's largest manufacturers of paperboard, containerboard, packaging and merchandising displays), has developed a hardware and service offering that would take promotions management to a new level. Partnering with Seeonic, a provider of inventory-management software, and RFID tag manufacturer UPM Raflatac, Alliance has developed an RFID-enabled system that would allow retailers and producers to track not only new promotional displays, but also the individual items featured on those displays. According to Seeonic, the system could also be used in conjunction with a theft-deterrence system.

The pairing of RFID with promotional displays represents one of the technology's success stories in the retail industry. Tracking the location of promotional displays using real-time visibility enabled by RFID has allowed consumer packaged goods companies, such as Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark, to improve the marketing of their products (see Kimberly-Clark Gets an Early Win). What's more, better promotions execution means better sales opportunities for retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens.

Alliance's new offering builds on the company's existing reusable product display system, known as MAXRPM, which reduces the packaging waste and shipping costs associated with single-use promotional displays. Produced with metal frames, MAXRPM displays accommodate corrugated shelving and signage swapped out with each new product promotion. The frame is continuously reused, and requires less corrugate for each promotion, thus lowering the size and weight of the promotional elements shipped to retail stores.

Working with Seeonic, Alliance is mounting a battery-powered EPC Gen 2 RFID interrogator onto the metal frame. The reader's antennas are positioned so that RFID tags attached to the products placed on the display will be interrogated when the device is powered on. The reader would then forward this data, via a Wi-Fi-enabled Internet connection, to a Web-accessible business intelligence service and relational database, SmartWatch, hosted by Seeonic.

Using SmartWatch, the manufacturer can monitor the quantity of new products on each display shelf, in real time. This provides much more detailed visibility than just tagging the display and not the items it contains, which is how promotion display tracking has been performed, to date, at major retail locations (see Walgreens, Revlon Affirm Value in Tagging Promotional Displays and P&G Finds RFID 'Sweet Spot').

SmartWatch could be employed to automatically alert store managers and product suppliers, through e-mail or other communications, when stock levels on the displays fall too low and need to be replenished. Maternity apparel company Tomorrow's Mother has used Seeonic's system to track its products sold in department stores, (see Maternity Apparel Maker Gives Birth to Smart Displays in Stores).

Additionally, the SmartWatch software can be programmed to alert store managers when many of the same products are removed from a shelf on the display at once. This could signify that a type of theft called a sweep—in which thieves remove large numbers of the same product and toss them into a bag or otherwise conceal them—is in progress. Based on a sweep alert from SmartWatch, store managers might send security personnel to the display area, or review security camera tapes to determine whether a theft is taking place.

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