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Turnkey Self-Service Store Would Employ RFID Instead of People

The prefabricated transportable structure, developed by a European startup, features RFID interrogators at the point of sale and exit door, enabling a retailer to operate without staff, and to quickly open up new branches to meet demand.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 08, 2008Food retail research and consulting company Food Information Service Europe (FIS Europe) is in discussion with retailers in the Netherlands and Belgium to deploy prefabricated automated stores that sell high-end food or other items to customers. The prefab stores incorporate self-locking doors, RFID technology and cameras, so that no staff is required.

The concept, known as Food Store 24, was inspired by a similar system employed at the Laxomat self-service convenience stores operated by Laxbutiken, a Swedish restaurant operator specializing in salmon. Laxbutiken operates two Laxomat stores—one in the city of Heberg, the other in Ljungskile—where customers can buy salmon, salads and other packaged food, as well as bottled drinks. The store is entirely self-service and requires no staff to transact purchases, thanks to RFID tags on the items and RFID interrogators at the point-of-sale terminals.

Dieter Niemietz
In the case of Food Store 24, German systems integrator IAL Automation und Logistik is providing RFID readers, tags and middleware that could be used to create an automated store enabling a business to stay open 24 hours a day without a night staff. Most stores in Europe are typically open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Operating later than that requires extra staff, and even a small store generally necessitates two staff members be on the premises during late hours for security purposes.

The Food Store 24 system, however, could allow a store to operate with no staff present. With this trailer-sized prefabricated stand-alone structure, transportable via tractor trailer, customers could enter anytime of the day or night, select purchases and complete transactions without an employee's assistance. The turnkey solution includes the prefabricated store, says Dieter Niemietz, president of IAL, though some retailers may opt to furnish their own store location and purchase only the RFID solution.

Since the turnkey structure is relatively easy to transport, Niemietz says, it enables retailers and restaurants to take their products and services to the public. He points out that the structure could be placed in crowded parking areas near theaters, concerts or other heavy traffic areas, as well as at ski resorts in the winter, beach areas in the summer, and even residential areas where there is demand. "If the store found out the spot is not very popular," he notes, "they could move it to another location."

The store works like this, according to Sylvia Pfaff, director of FIS Europe: To enter, a customer inserts a credit or debit card in a slot by the front door and inputs the card's four-digit PIN number. If the PIN is accepted, the door unlocks and allows the individual entrance to a lobby area. The card information is then stored in a back-end system, where it can be accessed remotely by the store's owner through a browser link. After the lobby's exterior door closes, a second door unlocks, allowing entrance to the store area itself.

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