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Best Buy Eager to Use RFID to Eliminate Checkout Lines

The greatest obstacle to deployment, according to Best Buy CIO Bob Willett, is the current cost of tags and readers.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 20, 2007Technology costs are the greatest obstacle to the store of the future, according to Best Buy's CIO, Bob Willett. In fact, he says, once the price of RFID tags and other hardware comes down to an affordable level, Best Buy plans to adopt an automated system designed to eliminate checkout lines.

Willett envisions a scenario, within the next few years, in which customers could locate an item in the store, pay for it with a credit card at a station located in the department in which they're shopping and request the item be home-delivered or prepared for pick up at the store front—either way, without having to wait for a cashier's assistance. This could be managed, he explains, through the placement of RFID tags on items and the installation of interrogators throughout the store—to quickly identify an item's specific location—as well as at point-of-sale devices that would read credit cards or Best Buy preferred-customer cards containing embedded RFID tags.

Best Buy's Bob Willett
To that end, Willett says he challenges vendors to create a system economical to retailers, including lower-cost readers and tags. Such a development, he predicts, could be accomplished within the next one or two years.

"The technology is out there to produce a checkout-less store now, but it is not yet cost-effective," Willett says. However, he adds, Best Buy (if not other retailers) is seeking this low-cost solution as soon as possible, to improve customer service. In describing the current shopping experience at Best Buy, Willett says, "We create a wonderful environment for customers and then, like all other retailers, ask them to line up for checkout." Such a scenario is not only inconvenient for Best Buy's customers, he states, but also frustrating for its staff, who could put their time to better use.

"Could you imagine how many people would be relieved from working on checkout to help other customers in the store with the products?" he asks. "Really, this is all about enhancing the customers' experience."

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