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Japanese Publisher Sees RFID as a Cure for Overstocks

Shogakukan is applying EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to its home medical dictionaries to reduce overordering by book retailers, and to expedite returns.
By Claire Swedberg
With the RFID system, however, book returns are greatly simplified, making it possible for Shogakukan to offer the non-consignment option in the first place, says Yutaka Okano, an engineer and member of the project development team at Suuri-Keikaku. Without RFID, hand-checking each SKU number in the system would be too labor-intensive with the high volume of books returned. Thus far, the publisher has tagged and shipped 50,000 copies of Home Medical Dictionary through non-consignment sales, Okano says, while total sales have reached approximately 70,000.

Whether sold through consignment or non-consignment, each medical dictionary is packaged in a box to which an EPC Gen 2 tag has been attached with a weak adhesive, so it can be removed at the point of sale before the customer leaves the store. The tag stores a unique ID number linked to data regarding the book in Shogakukan's back-end system, such as its title and publishing date.

To fill an order from a retailer, Shogakukan packs the requested quantity in a carton and passes it through an RFID reader tunnel, thereby creating an electronic record of which books were shipped.

The publisher attaches a label with a bar-coded serial number to each carton in which the books are packed, then moves the boxes through a Denso Wave RFID reader tunnel and bar-code scanner prior to shipping. A carton's bar-coded label is scanned at the same time that the books' RFID tags are read, thereby linking the box's ID number with those of the books. That data is then downloaded onto Shogakukan's database, using Suuri-Keikaku software, indicating the carton has been shipped and associating it with the store that will receive it.

When the carton arrives at the retail location, its bar-code label is scanned, and that data is stored in the store's back-end system, indicating the shipment has been received. For this purpose, because most bookstores lack RFID readers, the bar-coded labels are necessary to enable retailers to process the receipt of their shipments. Stores that do have RFID interrogators, however, have the option of reading the RFID tags on the dictionaries to indicate a shipment has been received.

If non-consignment books need to be returned, the store sends them back to Shogakukan. As the items are received, they again pass through the RFID reader tunnel, informing the system that the specific copies have been returned. Employees can then examine each book's quality and input any data regarding its condition in the Suuri-Keikaku software, after which the publisher's ERP system calculates the appropriate refund to which the retailer is entitled.

According to Okano, some book retailers served by Shogakukan have been utilizing Panasonic RFID readers at their stores to test how they could take advantage of the RFID tags. This includes Book House Jinbocho, managed by Showa Tosho, another division of the Hitotsubashi Group. The stores are using the interrogators to scan the books' tags as shipments from Shogakukan are received, as well as at the point of sale, where the tags are then removed.

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