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At William Ashley, RFID Name Tags Improve Service

The Canadian retailer is using Ubisense's real-time location system to speed the process of bringing the goods to customers, and of summoning sales help.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
The Ubisense tracking system, Tomlin says, has cut one to two minutes from the amount of time it takes a runner to locate a salesperson. That might not seem like much for one transaction, but the retailer says the cumulative benefits through time-savings over the course of a business day represent a substantial improvement in the store's customer service. It means less waiting for customers, greater productivity for runners and more time for salespeople to respond to patrons' questions and requests.

Previously, William Ashley utilized a different RFID-based RTLS that also employed transponders integrated into name tags. But that system, according to a DSI representative speaking on Tomlins' behalf, could locate a person only to within 20 feet, and its accuracy was eroded when a salespeople was in motion. Because the store has numerous large displays and partitions on its sales floor, runners often could not make visual contact with the salespeople they sought, even when standing within 20 feet of them. The greater location accuracy of the Ubisense system, the company claims, reduces that problem.


Because the layout of William Ashley's store (depicted in the model above) is so complex, the retailer sought an RFID system that helps staff find each other.

In addition to aiding runners, the Ubisense system is helping salespeople communicate with each other by leveraging a two-way communication function integrated into the tags. As a salesperson helps one customer, one or more other patrons may also require assistance. By pressing a button on the Ubisense tag, that employee can send out a call for assistance to other staff in the store.

The other salespeople receive this request via a short audio alert emitted by their own badge's Ubisense tag. An available salesperson walks to the nearest computer station, keys in to accept the request and receives instructions regarding where to go in the store to locate the staff member who requested help. That worker's badge then emits a short audio signal to indicate help is on the way. The salesperson who requested help will often see the responding staff member walking into his department, make eye contact and simply nod in the direction of the customer needing assistance. This way, he never needs to leave the patron he is currently helping.

In addition, the retailer is utilizing the Ubisense system for two other applications: tracking time and attendance, and controlling access to 150 display cabinets on the sales floor.

Upon entering the store, each staff member picks up his or her RFID-enabled name badge from a central location, then stands in front of a computer monitor, where a nearby Ubisense reader picks up the tag's signal. The reader then forwards that person's ID to the retailer's time and attendance software, provided by DSI. This software determines, based on the employee's schedule, that the individual is there to begin a shift. It clocks the worker in, prompting the person's name to appear on the computer screen, along with an automated audio greeting. The staff member stands in front of the monitor to clock off and back on when it's time for a break or lunch, then later clocks out at the end of the shift.

To access a display cabinet on the sales floor, a salesperson pushes a button on his Ubisense tag and, within three seconds, presses on the spring-hinged cabinet door. The door's electronic lock will disengage, and the security system will know which employee has opened the cabinet—which the retailer can compare with surveillance video recordings at a later date, if necessary. If anyone attempts to open a cabinet without first pressing the correct name-tag button, the cabinet will not unlock.

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