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John Lewis Store to Furnish Its Customers With RFID

The retailer's flagship store is launching a pilot involving RFID-tagged furniture shapes and fabric samples, to allow customers to view selected chairs, sofas and coverings displayed on a computer monitor.
By Claire Swedberg
Tags: Retail
Oct 14, 2014

U.K. retailer John Lewis is preparing to launch an RFID-enabled pilot at its flagship store in London by early next month that will allow shoppers to create an image of a specific chair or sofa with the fabric covering of their choice, using toysize pieces of furniture and swatches of fabric. The system includes a low-frequency (LF) reader built into a counter, and passive tags attached to tiny models of furniture and samples of fabric.

The store already offers customers a service known as Any Shape, Any Fabric, by which potential buyers at the store can proceed to a display on the wall and select cards depicting various styles of chairs and sofas, as well as cards dedicated to specific fabric types and colors. They can then manually input the details printed on the cards into a computer at the store, in order to view what that piece of furniture might look like with the fabric selected. (The Any Shape, Any Fabric service is also accessible online.) However, John Lewis' innovation team, headed by John Vary, the company's innovation manager of IT, wanted a technological option to make the experimentation with shapes and colors simpler and more fun.

As shown in this prototype, when an RFID-tagged furniture model and fabric swatch are placed above the RFID reader, the video screen displays the result.
Vary's team developed a system that included passive LF RFID tags to transmit a unique ID for each shape or fabric, as well as software (developed in-house) to combine the fabric and shape selections and then display an image of that item on a monitor.

Vary says he and two fellow team members began building the RFID solution in March 2014. They were already familiar with RFID technology, he explains, and knew that LF would be a preferable option to high-frequency (HF) or ultrahigh-frequency (UHF), which could result in stray reads due to their longer read range. They began designing the software to manage the collected read data, and applied RFID tags to shapes and fabric pieces, while installing an LF reader into a countertop. Vary declines to reveal which model of RFID reader is being used.

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