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What Do I Need to Know When Deploying a Retail RFID System?

Posted By RFID Journal, 02.23.2015

I plan to install radio frequency identification technology in small apparel stores, and am wondering about the following situations:

1) A customer buys a sweater with an RFID tag that is not deactivated at the point of sale. A few days later, the customer wears the sweater and walks into the store, either the same store or another one from the same chain. Would the sweater automatically be added back into the store's inventory after the person walks past an RFID scanner, and would it then be removed from inventory once he or she walks out again?

2) Will RFID tags that are not deactivated set off alarms at other retail locations?

3. In a situation in which a customer decides to return an item, can RFID tags be reactivated?




Here are answers to your questions:

1) No. Reading a tag is just part of the system. Software must be used to analyze the situation and/or change the status of the tagged item in the database. So when I walk into your store and buy a tagged item, you read it at the point of sale and the software updates the item's status in the database to say it has been sold. When I walk past the gates at the doorway (if the store uses them), the tag is interrogated. The reader forwards that serial number to an application that looks up the status in the database. If it is sold, nothing happens. If it is not sold, the application sounds an alert, like a conventional electronic article surveillance (EAS) system. If I walk back into your store, the tag is again read, and the software looks up the status. It's sold, so nothing further happens. If I walk into another store using RFID, the system would read the serial number and know it's not that store's tag, so it can be ignored.

2) No. As indicated above, the system is intelligent, unlike EAS. There would be no record of your serial numbers in the store's database, so the system would just ignore them.

3) Yes. There are several ways to deal with this. The most common is to leave the tag active but put it in a hangtag or on a label. If the customer keeps the item, he or she will throw away the label and there will be no active tag in the garment. It is possible to permanently kill the tag. In this case, you can never turn the tag back on. Since this makes RFID useless for reverse logistics, vendors have come up with several solutions. One is to turn all of the numbers to zero, so privacy is protected. If a customer returns the tagged item, you can send a command to the tag to restore the original serial number. Another solution is public and private mode. When the item is in private mode, it is within your operations and you can read the serial number. When it is sold and goes out into the public, a meaningless serial number can be read on the tag but nothing else. If the tagged item is returned, the tag can be switched back to private mode.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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