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Reading Books Reduces Out-of-Stocks

BGN, Holland's largest bookseller, plans to roll out RFID at its 42 stores throughout 2007 and 2008.
By Jonathan Collins
When a shipment leaves Centraal Boekhuis, the distributor electronically sends BGN an advance shipping notice (ASN) containing the unique numbers of the books in that shipment. When the book shipments arrive at the store and pass through a tunnel interrogator at the delivery door, the system matches the unique RFID tag ID numbers with those from the ASN. If a book is missing, the staff can see this indicated on the screen attached to the interrogator, as the discrepancy is automatically noted in BGN's store-inventory and central-invoicing systems.

The system provides a greater level of visibility than BGN could previously manage. Checking a single box of delivered books can take up to five minutes. For that reason, employees in other BGN stores open and check only one in every ten boxes or so. When BGN opened its new store in Almere, it was able to stock the site in a fraction of the time manual checking would have required.

"The store took delivery of 38,000 books in just three days," says van der Lely. "That's hugely faster than we could have done without RFID. It would have been two weeks' work." After the store opened for business, deliveries dropped to about 1,000 books per day—but that still amounts to a time-savings when receiving the books, and helps ensure they match the orders placed by the store.

For BGN, there are benefits to RFID-tracking its inventory that go well beyond receiving goods at the Almere store. Once weekly, an employee wheels a trolley-mounted RFID interrogator around the store, reading tagged books on shelves and display counters to get an up-to-date account of which books are in the store. This weekly inventory check takes about three hours.

The cost and time required to carry out a thorough stock count in a BGN store has traditionally limited such counts to once per year. The process of taking each book off the shelf, scanning the bar code and replacing it can take 24 hours or more. To complete the inventory and ready the store for opening on Monday morning, between 15 and 35 staff members (or more, depending on the size of a store) must work from Saturday night to Sunday night.

"BGN spends €200,000 ($255,210) annually on stock counts, excluding man-hour costs," says van der Lely. "Once a year, you do inventory. Next day, you know what is in the store—but the further away you get, you don't really know. Now we scan the books every week."

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