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The Key to Tracking Unique Items

Britain's CD.id project shows RFID can be used to track individual music CDs through the supply chain. The real challenge is creating a system that benefits everyone, including the retailer that wants to prevent shoplifting.
Jan 26, 2003Jan. 27, 2003 - At the ASDA Supermarket in Wembley, a teenager fingers the jewel case for "8 Mile," the soundtrack from the popular moving starring rap sensation Eminem. The boy has no intention of stealing the CD because he knows the case is empty. If he wants to buy it, he has to go to a special service area and have a clerk put the disk into the case. There are several customers already online, so he puts down the CD and walks out without buying anything.
Can RFID stop this guy?

Stores in the UK, and indeed around the world, go to extraordinary lengths to try to stop the theft of music CDs, which are among the most pilfered products. They would like to get some help from the music studios. But the studies are more interested in stopping the sale of pirated or forged CDs, which the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry says topped 1.9 billion units globally in 2001.

Radio frequency identification may help solve both problems and thus gain the support of retailers, distributors and music studios. At least that's the conclusion of some of those who participated in the CD.id project under Britain's Chipping of Goods Initiative.

"We've struggled to find a solution that provides benefits to all parties within the supply chain," says Rob Salter, managing director of Handleman UK, a major distributor that participated in the three-month trial. "RFID could well be a way of marrying all the different interests together."

The CD.id project was initiated by e.centre, a UK standards body that is part of UCC-EAN, the automatic identification and business standards organization. E.center submitted a proposal to Britain's Home Office and received some funding in late 1999 to launch a pilot. At the time, there had never been a pilot that tracked individual consumer items through the entire supply chain. E.center spent six months working out a way to do just that with music CDs. It consulted with vendors and systems integrators and members of EAN who understood the data collection requirements.

Finally, e.center approached its members with a plan and got a commitment from three companies: ASDA, the third largest retailer in UK behind Tesco and Sainsbury; EMI, the world's third largest music label; and Handleman UK. "They see the business benefits of the technology," says Stuart Dean, the CD.id project manager. "They think RFID will be the way of the future, and they needed to get their hands dirty and find out what it can it actually do."

The live phase of the project began on July 15 and ended Oct. 21. The participants have evaluated the results and submitted a report to the Home Office last week. The results won't be made public for a few more months, but all of the participants say the project was a success. Not because it proved RFID could reduce theft -- the group didn't have good historical data for comparisons -- but because it showed that real-time tracking and data sharing is feasible.

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