Japanese Retailer Aeon Checks Out Checkpoint’s RFID-enabled Robot

By Claire Swedberg

The company is switching to an RFID-based electronic article surveillance system, and is testing the robot's ability to track inventory to monitor the locations of goods at its flagship store.

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Japanese general-merchandise chain Aeon Retail is piloting an RFID-enabled robot to track inventory at its flagship store in Chiba, as well as rolling out an RFID-based electronic article surveillance (EAS) system, using technology provided by Checkpoint Systems.

Since December 2015, the robot—a prototype provided by Checkpoint—has been capturing the ID numbers of tagged goods as it moves throughout the store. The robot then matches that information with the retailer’s inventory-management software data.

Aeon is testing the ability of Checkpoint’s prototype robot to automate the inventory-counting process, eliminate human error, reduce operational costs and free up employees so they can better serve shoppers.

The retailer first began using EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags for some of its products in 2013, by tagging and tracking two categories of goods. The solution consists of Checkpoint’s UNO dual RF and RFID labels, as well as its Champion RFID tags for EAS loss prevention and inventory management, says Jung Pyon, Checkpoint’s global product management VP. The tags are then read during inventory checks and at the exit, provided that they have not been removed from the items.

Checkpoint’s Jung Pyon

Previously, the retailer has employed acousto-magnetic EAS technology to provide anti-theft protection. However, the company reports, that system did not identify what was being removed, or assist with inventory management.

For the new RFID-enabled EAS rollout, the retailer installed Checkpoint’s Evolve iRange P10 EAS gate at the exit to its Chiba store. The EAS gate’s built-in Wirama 1500 RFID reader, Pyon says, captures the ID numbers of tagged items leaving the store, and also signals an alert.

Aeon Retail’s stores sell clothing, general merchandise and food. Products are tagged either at the distribution center or at the store. Aeon makes its own goods, as well as selling third-party products. However, the percentage of Aeon’s line of house-brand products at its stores is increasing. Eventually, Aeon could opt to apply the tags at the point of manufacture.

Aeon has declined to provide additional details regarding the pilot project. But in general, the company says, it is testing the robot’s ability to read RFID labels and thereby, using Checkpoint’s OAT Enterprise software, determine what products are on the sales floor and which goods requires replenishment—something that, in the past, had to be done manually or with a handheld reader.

At the exit to its Chiba store, Aeon installed Checkpoint’s Evolve iRange P10 EAS gate with a built-in RFID reader that captures the ID numbers of tagged items leaving the store.

The robot stands approximately the height of an average person, moves on wheels and uses sensors to navigate its way around the store while reading EPC UHF tags. Aeon Retail is the first site at which the prototype has been used.

“We are trying this pilot for enhancing customer service,” says an Aeon spokesperson who has asked to remain unnamed. “We are verifying whether the technology helps the store operation and workload reduction so that the store staff can focus on the customer service. The benefit is that the store staff can focus on customers by improving staff workload.”

The Aeon spokesperson adds, “For now, there are no plans for expanding or deploying, as we are at the stage of determining and analyzing benefits from the pilot.”