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Japanese Auto-Checkout Piloting Expands

Efforts to provide 100 billion RFID-tagged products are expanding from convenience stores to drug stores, while RFID technology companies such as Impinj are announcing their support.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 26, 2018

Japanese efforts to leverage radio frequency identification technology in the nation's retail environments are expanding as one way to enable self-checkout. The country's electronic tagging initiative, which launched last year, includes applying ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to products sold at convenience stores. With the latest expansion, the initiative now focuses on goods at drug stores as well.

Japan has been facing a labor shortage that has impacted the ability of retailers to staff their stores. One potential solution to the problem may be technology to automate in-store processes.

Impinj's Chris Diorio
The country's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) recently announced its initiative to begin tracking products at drugstores nationwide. This expands on its April 2017 announcement that it was working with five convenience stores to tag all products by 2025, with the aim of not only tracking inventory throughout the supply chain, but also enabling automated checkout in stores. Pilots are currently under way at some retail locations.

Seattle-based Impinj has weighed in on this effort. The company has expressed support of efforts on the part of METI and the retailers as a step in the direction of making sure that every product sold is connected to the internet.

In the meantime, efforts are under way to accomplish automatic checkout with other technologies as well. U.S.-based retailer Amazon last year opened its Amazon Go store, which leverages camera-based, computer-vision, sensor-fusing technology, rather than RFID, to detect what product a consumer takes off the shelf. This creates a virtual shopping cart that is then deducted from a shopper's credit card (see Amazon Aims to Revolutionize Brick-and-Mortar Shopping). METI and its partner retailers, on the other hand, are moving in the direction of UHF RAIN RFID technology to accomplish automated checkout and inventory tracking.

The technology pilots and deployments in Japan, says Chris Diorio, Impinj's founder and CEO, are part of a worldwide effort among some retailers to explore how to uniquely identify items that are purchased, as well as which customer bought them, in order to make shopping at brick-and-mortar stores more seamless.

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