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Staples Testing Active RFID for In-Store Tracking, Security

The retailer is working with Fujitsu Transaction Solutions and RFID solution provider AbsoluteSky to run a six-week pilot, evaluating a proprietary, active RFID system for tracking product inventory and shrinkage in a 37,000-square-foot Montreal retail store.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
If the IntelliTracker system detects a tag that is not associated with a purchased item, it can transmit an alert to store security personnel that a theft is likely in progress. If, on the other hand, the tag detected matches one associated with a recently purchased item, the system presumes it is a tag that a sales clerk neglected to remove and therefore does not send out such an alert.

The IntelliTracker system also tracks tags passing through store exits without being purchased—that is, those attached to goods being stolen—so the retailer can maintain accurate records of stolen goods. "This is helpful information for keeping accurate inventory records," says Soares, adding that this data is unattainable from current EAS systems, since EAS tags are not product identifiers.

To date, Soares says, 2,000 IntelliTracker tags are in use at the Montreal store on high-value items the managers have deemed likely to be stolen. The tags have a rugged housing and measure 0.25 inch thick, 1 inch long and 1.25 inches wide. As the items are received and brought into store inventory, the tags are attached with loops, pins or another of 10 different attachment methods AbsoluteSky has devised. Store personnel use readers linked to a server running the IntelliTracker software, to encode a unique ID to the tag associated with the item's stock-keeping unit and Universal Product Code.

According to Frabasile, the IntelliTracker software is installed on a PDA device that store personnel can use to locate a product type—such as a specific printer cartridge SKU, for example—to determine the quantity of that item available in the store at that time, as well as the closest location of such an item. The PDA also includes an RFID interrogator that can be used to hunt down a specific IntelliTracker tag within a store, by emitting a beeping sound as the user gets closer to the tag.

Soares says Staples Business Depot plans to analyze the trial results to determine whether it will conduct more tests of the technology or perform another, larger test. One important metric the retailer plans to track, he explains, is the number of times it uses each tag (that is, how many times each tag is removed from a product at the point of purchase, then re-encoded and attached to another product). This will enable it to estimate the per-use cost of the tags during their five-year life span.

So far, Soares says, the tags are showing strong performance. "We've been getting 100 percent reads from day one."

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