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Uptown Cycles Uses EPC Gen 2 Solution to Accelerate Sales

An RFID-enabled checkout kiosk and security gate enables the specialty bicycle store to focus staff time on customers who require assistance, while improving inventory and deterring theft.
By Claire Swedberg
When selecting a product, a customer has two choices: to take that item to a manned POS register, where an employee can then scan its bar-coded stock-keeping unit (SKU) number and disable its RFID tag, or to go to the self-service kiosk. To use the self-service option, the shopper places the product onto a counter built into the kiosk, and an RFID interrogator captures the unique ID number on that item's RFID tag. Freedom Shopping's FLiP software locates the product's bar-coded SKU number associated with that tag ID number, and then sends that information to the retailer's existing POS system, enabling the store's database to know that the item has been purchased. At the same time, the FLiP software also updates the inventory to indicate the item has been removed. The customer scans his or her credit or debit card and receives a receipt, and the reader disables the RFID tag as the purchase is made.

EPC Gen 2 RFID tags are attached to the packaging of the items the store sells.
Upon leaving the store, the patron passes through the FLiP security gate, which amounts to antennas on each side of the door, cabled to a fixed RFID reader. If the tag has not been disabled—indicating the product has not been purchased—the interrogator captures that tag's ID number and the FLiP software triggers an audible alert, while also updating the inventory system to indicate the product is being removed from the shop. In that way, the store's management knows not only that an item is being removed, but also exactly which one.

The inventory tracking is working well, says Chris Sheehan, Uptown Cycles' co-owner and manager, and customers like the kiosk. In the coming months, Sheehan hopes to expand on the system's functions to enhance the store experience, by providing appropriate media to its customers who use the kiosk. Such media could include coupons based on what they purchase. The retailer plans to offer a loyalty program in March 2010 that would enable customers to set up a store account, linked to coupons and rewards based on their spending habits. The kiosk would also allow patrons to purchase gift cards.

The solution is an example of how simple a Freedom Shopping installation can be, Simmons says, since it integrates directly with the store's existing point-of-sale system. "It's a pre-bundled, ready-to-go solution," he states. "Our goal with the FLiP suite has been to demystify RFID and make it plug-and-play." The system comes with four options—solely inventory management with tags, software and a handheld reader; inventory management as well as security, with the addition of the security gate; inventory, security and a kiosk; or all of the former functions in addition to one enabling customers to pay in cash at the kiosk. The cost averages between $12,000 and $35,000, based on the particular option selected.

"The kiosk has brought in some new sales," Sheehan says, "but we expect the real increase to happen when we bring in the customer loyalty/rewards element to it."

The main benefit for Uptown Cycles, according to Sheehan, has been improved inventory accuracy. Because each item is tracked with RFID from the time it arrives at the store until it is purchased or taken through the security system reader, he says, there is less opportunity for items to disappear through theft by staff members or customers. Employees, he adds, "know the inventory is accurate, and are more careful with their actions."

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