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Walgreens, Revlon Affirm Value in Tagging Promotional Displays

The largest U.S. drugstore chain is using radio frequency identification to track product displays at nearly all of its 5,000 stores, boosting sales by as much as 400 percent.
By Claire Swedberg
Each tag transmits its unique ID number via a proprietary air-interface protocol, utilizing its built-in battery to power some of its circuitry, thereby giving it a longer read range than passive tags. The reader receives this data and sends it, via the Internet, to a server where information—including the display's location, based on which antennas receive that transmission—is interpreted by Goliath software and made available to vendors and retailers, via a secure Web site hosted by Goliath. In this way, Revlon and other Walgreens suppliers can receive real-time updates regarding which displays are placed on the sales floor, as well as when and where.

Data from the point-of-sale terminals is also sent to the server. The software compares that information against the promotional display's store location, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of a specific display and its location. Walgreens' suppliers then pay a monthly or per-use fee to access that data.

The semi-passive tags have a long read range—100 to 200 feet—making them a good choice in stores. However, EPC Gen 2 UHF tags would be less expensive and more appealing for retailers, since such tags are offered by a number of RFID vendors, typically for logistics solutions. A proof-of-concept test is slated to begin at the end of March, Overhultz says, in a Chicago-area Walgreens. If the technology appears to work properly with the new tags, he adds, the readers can be replaced in all of the drugstore chain's locations.

According to Overhultz, because the read range of passive EPC Gen 2 tags is shorter than that of the Goliath semi-passive tags, more antennas may be required in a store's ceiling. However, he notes, Goliath has developed the system to read passive tags at distances greater than that usually attained for passive tags. He declines to describe how long that read range might be, or how the Goliath engineers have achieved such a range. He adds, however, that the interrogators would be unlikely to capture Electronic Product Code (EPC) numbers from tags the CPG companies place on products or cartons for logistics purposes. The display tags intended for reading by the Goliath system, he explains, would need to be applied at the best location for capturing reads from the ceiling antennas.

In some cases, Overhultz says, stores may choose to continue utilizing the existing semi-passive system. "Because long-range reads will be valuable for other applications," he notes, "we will continue to read such tags in addition to passive EPC tags." This can be accomplished with a multi-functional reader, designed and sold by Goliath, that could operate with either Goliath's semi-passive tags or passive EPC Gen 2 tags.

Wal-Mart is another retailer that has employed radio frequency identification to track promotional displays. One of its suppliers, Procter & Gamble, has indicated that the use of RFID to monitor when displays are moved to the sales floor has resulted in improved promotional effectiveness and increased sales and (see P&G Finds RFID 'Sweet Spot'). Nonetheless, P&G recently opted to cease tagging the product displays it sends to Wal-Mart (see Procter & Gamble Halts Tagging of Promotional Displays).

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