Exhibit Shop Sells Fashion, Cosmetics With RFID

By Claire Swedberg

Last month, ICC's His & Hers launched its first unmanned store at Bitec's Saha Group Fair, in Bangkok, using RFID technology to identify goods being purchased, as well as AI to link each purchase with a specific shopper via facial recognition.

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ICC International PLC recently launched an unmanned fashion store that leverages RFID, facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) to enable shoppers to browse through products, select what they want and take it, without requiring help from a live sales person. The His & Hers Smart Shop was featured at last month’s 23rd annual Saha Group Fair, held in Bangkok. Following the event, the company plans to deploy the solution at a permanent store in its Bangkok headquarters.

ICC is the marketing division of fashion and cosmetics company Saha Group. The firm comprises 800 businesses, including food and other consumer products. Its properties include approximately 100 His & Hers stores throughout Thailand. ICC has been in business for half a century, says Surat Wongratanapassorn, the company’s VP of IT, but retail is changing and consumers expect a more digitally oriented shopping experience. The retailer has recently been pursuing a more digitally focused model for fashion sales, Surat explains.

ICC’s goal is to make shopping more accessible to a younger, more tech-savvy audience. “We like to develop something from the old traditional [model] that still features new lifestyle trends in stores,” Surat says. Some stores feature promotions via an app—for instance, a store could sell apparel but provide a coupon that a user could redeem for a free coffee at one of ICC’s coffee shops.

In the meantime, Saha Group hosts an annual fair supported by the Thai government’s Department of International Trade Promotion. Typically, one million people attend the Bangkok event, at which ICC has the opportunity to promote its products. “We have an exhibition for customers,” Surat says, at which it can showcase clothing, food, appliances and sporting goods. This year, the company included an unmanned, fully automated His & Hers store at the exhibition.

During the past two years, ICC has experimented with artificial intelligence (AI) solutions from telecommunication company True Corp., including a system that could detect which product is being selected or taken out of the store via camera-based data. Such a solution, however, is too high in cost to be deployed across numerous stores, Surat explains. Therefore, the company began investigating passive UHF RFID technology to provide an affordable way to identify goods, and to then link those products with a specific shopper.

The Saha Group exhibition store measured 90 square meters (969 square feet) and included 300 stock-keeping units (SKUs) from three brands: Arrow Apparel, Wacoal (a lingerie provider) and cosmetics company BSC. During the event, shoppers could visit the unmanned shop, make selections and be charged automatically for what they took.

Each tagged item has a passive EPC UHF RFID tag attached to it. The tag comes with an Impinj Monza 5 or Monza 6 RFID chip or an NXP Semiconductors chip, Surat says, and the inlay measures 2 centimeters by 10 centimeters (0.8 inch by 3.9 inches). The relatively long length of the tag ensures that the antenna reliably responds to interrogations from the reader, Surat explains, preventing any mistakes at the point of sale, where there is no room for error. The unique ID number on each tag is linked to the product’s SKU in ICC’s software.

When shoppers arrive at the store, they must first download the ICC app. Once the app is downloaded on an iOS- or Android-based device, a visitor can enter information including his or her name and financial information, such as credit-card or bank-account information, for payments. The customer also takes a picture of himself or herself, which is linked to that individual’s account information. The photograph then enables the system to identify that person inside the shop. The shopper is free to enter the store, browse through products and select items for purchase.

When a consumer proceeds to the point of sale, he or she places the goods on a dedicated table near the exit, where an RFID reader (built in-house by ICC) is installed to capture each item’s tag ID number. At the same time, a camera at the doorway captures the shopper’s photo and accesses his or her account information based on facial recognition.

The customer can view the information on a touch screen, which includes that person’s name and the items being purchased, after which he or she can select a prompt to approve the purchase. The shopper is then free to remove the goods from the store, while the credit card or bank account is charged the appropriate price. “When you go out,” Surat states, “the computer will make the deduction,” and the customer can then exit the store. The door, he notes, will open automatically. The inventory-management software then knows the item has been sold and a replenishment order is placed.

In the long term, Surat explains, the RFID tag can be used for both sales and supply chain management purposes, to provide up-to-date data regarding which goods have left the store and need to be replenished. The company plans to deploy the RFID and AI solution at a permanent store in its headquarters within about two months, Surat reports.

According to Surat, the firm has overcome some challenges centered around RFID reads, in order to ensure 100 percent accuracy of the system. For one thing, he says, it had to engineer the reader to ensure that it would not receive stray reads from goods within the vicinity that were not on the table and not being purchased. To accomplish this goal, the technical team installed metal shielding around the reader table. “The shield works well,” he says. “The RF signal does not get through the metal.” Since being engineered and tested, Surat reports, the system has been working with high accuracy, and he says he has confidence in the RFID technology’s ability to operate as intended.

With regard to customers’ response to the unmanned store, Surat says he expects the system to increase His & Hers’ app-based membership, which is currently at about two million people. “We hope to generate excitement as well as new membership,” he states. The release will be promoted with the help of local celebrities. ICC’s long-term goal is to transition some of these stores to unmanned shops; that, Surat notes, would depend on the customer response.