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Grocery Retailers Test RFID-enabled Shopping Carts

The system can locate carts up to 1 mile from a store, stop them from straying too far and track shopping behavior
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 11, 2006Systems integrator Intelligentz is testing an RFID-based tracking system that would allow stores and shopping cart management companies to trace the movement of grocery shopping carts both inside the store, as well as in the parking lot and beyond.

The loss of shopping carts has been an ongoing problem that can cost stores thousands of dollars a year. Typically, the carts cost between $150 and $200 each. When a customer takes a cart off the premises and walks home with it, for example, most stores pay a management company to round up missing carts and return them to the store. One of these management companies, California Shopping Cart Retrieval Corp. (CSCRC), is working with Intelligentz in piloting the RFID system to provide CSCRC's customers with a cart that can't be as easily lost. CSCRC, which manages carts for 2,500 stores in Southern California and the Las Vegas area, collects and returns about 8.5 million carts per year, says Neal Smith, CSCRC president and CEO.

Jerry Flores, Intelligentz VP of business development
To address this issue, a growing number of stores use wheel-locking technology that causes a pin to drop and freezes the wheels of cart pushed beyond the parking area. The problem with this solution, however, is that there is a loss of pedestrian shopping traffic. Smith points out that many stores have a large percentage of pedestrian shoppers who want to take the cart all the way to their home, which may be in the neighborhood of the store. With the Intelligentz system, shoppers could remove the carts from the store, but the store would still be able to track just how far from the store they go and more easily retrieve them.

The Intelligentz system, known as the RFPro Series, includes an active RFID tag attached to the lower front axle between a cart's wheels. Intelligentz is testing 433 MHz and 915 MHz battery-powered tags that transmit a unique ID number specific to that cart. The store installs RFID antennas to pick up signals from tags up to 100 feet away. To track carts that leave the premises, the store could also install antennas with a longer read-range—up to 1 mile—attached to light poles in the store parking lot. Tag data specific to those carts is then transmitted wirelessly to the store database as well as to the cart retrieval company's database, using Pangaea RF Pro software, according to Jerry Flores, vice president of business development for Intelligentz. That software provides a mobile mapping interface, allowing authorized users to locate and retrieve the asset.

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