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L.L. Bean Tries to Hike Sales With RFID

The apparel and outdoor gear retailer is testing an RFID system that can track when a shopper handles a hiking boot on display, thereby triggering a video screen to play informational media, while also measuring shopper interest.
By Claire Swedberg
At L.L. Bean's Freeport location, multiple antennas, connected to a single Impinj Speedway R420 reader, were installed on a 12-foot-wide, 10-foot-tall display wall on which tagged men's hiking boots are exhibited. The display wall was also fitted with a video screen wired to a server loaded with digital advertising video, graphics and text about the boots. Approximately 30 individual boots were tagged, Bleckmann says, with each one representing a different style or use, such as trail running, back packing or basic hiking. Each shoe has a UPM RFID ShortDipole ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tag adhered to its insole.

The system, with the exception of the video system, went live at the Freeport store, in the final week of January 2011. For the first three weeks or so, the system is only tracking how often each shoe is picked up by a customer. Once this data-collection phase is completed, the video system will be put into operation.

The interrogator constantly reads each boot's tag and forwards the read data to the InMotion software, running on a PC installed in the store. The InMotion software analyzes the transmission to determine whether any boots have been moved. If the software discerns that a boot has been picked up, it sends that movement event to http://www.freedomshopping.com Freedom Shopping>'s Freedom SDK software, which manages all media and collects tag-movement data, and makes that information available to L.L. Bean for marketing analysis.


For the hiking boot display wall, 30 individual boots were tagged, with each boot representing a different style.

The media information could include a video about a particular shoe, specific details about that product and reviews. If several individuals pick up boots, the system is designed to be "first-come-first-serve," so that the next shoe to be lifted triggers a small box in the lower corner of the screen, thus indicating that its media will play next.

Additionally, the system stores movement data indicating the number of times that each product is picked up, and for how long. That information can then be compared against the point-of-sale records for the same day. In this way, the company can analyze the level of interest that each product generates, whether that interest leads to sales and whether the media content seems to be increasing the number of purchases, when compared against sales garnered without the use of media content.

The read range is approximately 12 feet between the tag and the wall's antennas. If a tagged boot is moved several inches in any direction, or if it is rotated, that motion will trigger the system to display advertising and begin collecting data regarding the boot's movement. L.L. Bean has declined to provide comments for this story, and has not indicated how long it expects the pilot to run. However, Bleckmann says, the retailer has told him that it would evaluate the system's performance at the boot wall, and that it would eventually decide whether or not to deploy the technology permanently, based on the results of that assessment.

Pittsfield ID has also developed a bulk encoding system designed for item-level tagging applications, known as BatchComplete. This solution includes an Impinj RF420 reader, and is designed to encode and read tags at a rate of about 35 tags per second. The company is presently in discussions with several potential end users regarding BatchComplete.

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