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FamilyMart Demonstrates RFID's Convenience to Customers

At two of the retailer's busiest Tokyo stores, item-level tagging and RFID-enabled payment cards enabled the merchant to double the number of customers it could serve per hour.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 02, 2007FamilyMart, a Japanese retail chain owned by the corporate giant Itochu, has completed a two-phase pilot of an item-level RFID system at two of its busiest Tokyo stores. The project included tagging popular items to demonstrate how item-level tagging could speed the point-of-sale (POS) process and reduce queues during the busy early-morning and lunch rush hours.

FamilyMart operates 11,501 convenience stores in Asia, including more than 6,000 in Japan and 5,000 in such countries as Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. By 2009, the retailer plans to open 250 stores in the United States. The two Tokyo locations involved in the RFID pilot had been experiencing heavy traffic and long queues at cash registers during busy hours. As part of the pilot, FamilyMart's suppliers hand-applied passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags to 500 of the retailer's most popular items, including bread, sushi rolls and salads. Each tag's unique ID number was associated with item-related data in the stores' back-end system.

Mike Keane
The two participating stores were fitted with Toshiba TEC Express POS terminals with RFID interrogators, as well as related Toshiba TEC software able to interpret data from those readers. The Express POS platform employs RFID item-level tagging and contactless payment cards to make checkouts faster at busy convenience stores.

Mike Keane, European manager of Toshiba TEC's bar-code printing division, says FamilyMart tested a variety of RFID tags and readers to see how well item-level tagging worked in the stores. The trial has support from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Phase 1 commenced in early 2006, and involved testing the hardware at Itochu's offices. "Basically," says Keane, "this was the initial test in 2006, in a controlled environment." Passive tags operating at 13.56 MHz and complying with the ISO 18092 standard were attached to items and tested at sales counters at the two stores. Customers buying products would place their items on the Express POS self-checkout system, which has an integrated RFID interrogator that reads the RFID tags and completes the sales transaction. "The results, overall, showed an extremely positive reception by customers," Keane says. The system was able to ring up all items simultaneously, rather than requiring the individual scanning needed with bar codes.

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