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Metro Group's Galeria Kaufhof Launches UHF Item-Level Pilot
The project involves the application of EPC tags to individual garments and the use of RFID-enabled dressing rooms and displays and a smart mirror. The participants say this is the world's first end-to-end UHF item-level application.
In addition to an RFID tag, each garment also carries the usual hangtag, printed with the item's price and bar-coded stock-keeping unit (SKU) number. Metro has hung signs explaining the RFID application and how it works, and shoppers can also pick up a pamphlet about the project. If a customer wants the tag removed after purchase, clerks can do so and discard it. Any RFID tags remaining on garments can be used as a sort of electronic receipt if customers return them.
At the cash register, clerks ring up items in the traditional fashion by scanning the bar codes. At the same time, an RFID interrogator installed under the counter reads the tag in a garment. If an item has been placed on the counter but not purchased, a clerk can use a handheld interrogator to read the RFID tag and inform the system that the garment was not sold after all. By running the bar-code system simultaneously with the RFID application, Metro will be able to obtain data showing if RFID is equally as reliable as bar-code technology, or more or less so.
Metro began working on the project late last year, launching the shop-floor implementation one month ago. One challenge the partners faced was tuning antennas in such a dense-reader environment. "The readers had to be set so each one wouldn't read all the tags," Wolfram says. This problem was solved, in cooperation with Impinj, by employing near-field UHF readers.
Metro shipped pieces of display furniture, along with parts of checkout counters needing to be outfitted with RFID readers, to Impinj's Seattle headquarters, where engineers built custom interrogators and antennas in the lab. By using special near-field UHF antennas for the tags and readers, the company enabled a large number of tags to be read at short range.
Chris Diorio, Impinj's chairman and CTO, says Metro set criteria for the minimum read rate at each read point in the store, based on the importance of that particular read point. The display table, for instance, required a rate of at least 95 percent. "We exceeded all of Metro's established read rates for every reader in the store," Diorio recalls, "with an average rate of more than 99 percent."
According to Wolfram, the pilot will run until at least the end of 2008. During that time, Metro, together with Gardeur and GS1, will analyze the data collected.
The development of the smart mirror, smart shelves and smart dressing rooms in the Gardeur shop was supported through a European research project called BRIDGE (Building Radio frequency IDentification solutions for the Global Environment"—see BRIDGE Project Members Press Ahead). The partners decline to reveal how much they have invested in the project, indicating the amount could not actually be calculated since some devices used are prototypes and not yet priced.
The Metro Group has pioneered the use of RFID in Europe. In a 2003 logistics pilot, Kaufhof tested item-level tagging of Gerry Weber clothing headed for stores in Muenster and Wesel (see Retailer Tests RFID on Garments).
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