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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
In addition, store inventories have to be carried out before the end of BGN's financial year. "We can't change our year-end now, because it would mean another expensive inventory check mid-year," says van der Lely. "But with RFID, if we want to close tomorrow, we can close then. That's another huge benefit from RFID—quarterly results are quick and exact."

In addition, BGN has placed RFID interrogators at its point-of-sale terminals, allowing workers to read the tags on books customers purchase, updating the store inventory as the books are sold. After purchase, the system kills the corresponding RFID tags so they can no longer be read.

RFID tagging can greatly improve the ability of both staff and customers to know the location of each book in a store. The Almere bookstore has 800 shelves, divided into 115 cupboards, and more than 25 display sections on the shop floor. BGN has tagged each cupboard and display. When books are delivered to the store, employees divide them up by department and bring them to the RFID-tagged cupboards. As workers put the books on the shelves, they scan each book and the unique ID tag attached to each book-storage location. The relationship between the two provides the book's location in the store, which staff members can see displayed on the computer terminals at their workstations.

"The existing system knows what is received, but can't tell a location—just that it is probably in stock," says Vink. "We have moved from possible availability to telling customers, 'Yes, we have it in stock, and you can find it here.'"

Customers also have access to the detailed information on the location of books in the store. The store has three computer kiosks, which customers can use to search for a book based on intelligent and navigation technology (such as by title, author or price), or to determine if a book is in the store and see the exact location within the store displayed on-screen.

When a particular book is not in stock, a customer can order a copy, either at the kiosk or through a staff member. Once that tagged book is delivered to the store, the store management system reads the tag and sends an alert to the customer's e-mail address or mobile phone, telling them the book is available for pick-up.

BGN and Capture Tech are developing ways to improve the RFID system's ability to pinpoint exactly where books are, and to do away with the mobile interrogator completely. Capture Tech, along with RFID specialist partners AcuityID and BA Systems LLC, is developing shelf-mounted interrogators and antennas that will eventually be deployed on every shelf in the store.

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