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Making RFID Easier for Retailers

Solution providers are addressing employee issues that have arisen as retailers deploy the technology in more stores.
By Mark Roberti
Mar 02, 2015

Radio frequency identification has been hailed as a way for retailers to improve store performance by boosting inventory visibility. Store associates, for example, can use handheld readers to take cycle counts weekly, or even daily, so retailers can see what items are missing from shelves and replenish them. This prevents retailers from losing a potential sale because a customer can't find the desired item.

But some retailers are finding that as they roll out the technology across hundreds of stores, it's difficult to manage individual deployments. Store associates don't always use the RFID system as intended, and store managers don't necessarily stay on top of them to do so. Associates might not do regular cycle counts and replenish items that are out of stock. Or they might not use a handheld to locate items that are out of place and return them to their proper spots.

Photo: iStockphoto/RFID Journal
RFID solution providers involved in large retail rollouts have begun to address these issues. Checkpoint Systems, for example, recently introduced a smart table that can be used at a distribution center to immediately check whether an apparel supplier has shipped the correct items. The RFID hardware and software are integrated into the table and linked to a retailer's enterprise software. As an employee runs tagged items over the table's surface, inventory data is updated and items ordered but not received are flagged. This enables staff members to receive items without having to remember to read tags with a handheld reader.

Checkpoint has also developed a smart table designed for the back of stores. As an employee folds clothing items received from the distribution center on the table, a reader captures the unique serial number in each tag and confirms the item was supposed to be shipped. The system flags any items shipped in error. If an item is needed on the sales floor, the system alerts the employee to bring it out immediately.

The same system can be used to facilitate omnichannel shopping. The table can confirm that an order arriving at the back of the store—or picked from the store's inventory—was purchased online, so the item will be available when the customer comes to get it. The aim of these integrated stations is to simplify routine tasks for store and distribution center associates, so systems can be rolled out quickly—and employees, even temporary workers, will use them.

Impinj began this trend in 2013 when it unveiled its xArray system, which combines its Speedway Revolution R420 reader with a beam-steerable antenna and software. The xArray, now available for broad distribution, is designed for installation in retail store ceilings. Conventional RFID antennas capture data from tags in a narrow read field, but beam-steerable antennas can determine the location and movement of tagged objects in a larger read field. The xArray creates a 40-foot-diameter read zone and can show where a tagged item is within that zone. Impinj worked with one of its partners to create a touch-screen solution that shows items for sale. A store associate or customer can click on the item and see where it is located in the store, even if it has been misplaced.

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