RFIDJournal.com’s Best of 2023: L’Oréal Automates Pop-Up Store with RFID

The cosmetics company's Düsseldorf site displayed and sold products using Avery Dennison UHF RFID on-metal tags to identify products, with Payfree's RFID payment system for seamless checkout.
Published: December 21, 2023

Editor’s note: As we get toward the end of 2023, RFIDJournal.com is looking back at some of the top stories that we published in the last year.

A L’Oréal pop-up store in Düsseldorf, Germany, deployed radio frequency identification (RFID) late last year to enable self-checkout in an environment that offers a variety of technological challenges. The store’s makeup and fragrance products are small, with highly stylized metallic packaging that often contains liquids. These conditions can make discrete RFID tagging, as well as effective tag reading, a challenge for traditional UHF RFID systems.

However, design work conducted by RFID solutions company Payfree, using its own checkout station technology and Avery Dennison RFID tags, provided the necessary seamless purchasing for customers, the companies report. L’Oréal opened the store at the Königsallee shopping mall last fall, allowing customers to sample and test some of its fragrances and makeup products, and to make their purchases onsite.

L’Oréal’s goal was to provide shoppers with access to the products in a temporary pop-up store in which they could skip queues at checkout. Rather than standing on a line, shoppers could make purchases at self-checkout stations leveraging built-in RFID readers that captured data from tags on the products being purchased. Avery Dennison offered its beauty-ready RFID tags designed specifically for cosmetics. The company claims it is among the first to offer an on-metal tag at a price that makes high-volume tagging feasible.

Tracking System for Apparel and Merchandise

When planning its pop-up store strategy, L’Oréal primarily wanted to enable a seamless shopping experience, according to Nino Raddao, Payfree’s co-CEO. (L’Oréal declined to comment for this story). The system, known as Bag Fast Track, was adopted to provide that experience in the unique environment of small, high-value products within a pop-up store. Payfree already offers its grab-and-go checkout solutions for a variety of retail segments, such as apparel and merchandise.

Nino Raddao

Nino Raddao

One example was a 2022 deployment of an automated checkout solution using UHF RFID technology, which was deployed at Eintracht Frankfurt and is still in use. The German football club had opted for a standalone self-service shop for fans during a match, equipped with the Bag Fast Track checkout lane. The primary difference between the two use cases is that Eintracht Frankfurt’s self-service store was designed for fast-paced, high-volume shopping in the football club environment.

The L’Oréal deployment, on the other hand, had a strong focus on a premium shopping experience. Additionally, Raddao says, software requirements differed between the two customers. “With Eintracht, we did a full software integration into their point-of-sale and enterprise-resource-planning systems,” he explains, “whereas we used a more mobile and autonomous set-up with Payfree’s own point-of-sale module for the L’Oréal implementation.” The cosmetics company chose to deploy the pop-up store at one of Germany’s most popular retail areas until the end of November 2022.

The store, measuring 50 square meters (539 square feet), stocked approximately 2,000 stock-keeping units, including various fragrances and beauty products. Each product comes with an RFID inlay built into its price label. The labels were attached in such a way that they did not disturb the packaging’s appearance. The Bag Fast Track system employs a UHF RFID reader built into a checkout lane that customers used before leaving the site, with all data managed on Payfree’s dedicated server.

Improving the Customer Experience

Upon arriving onsite, customers could browse through merchandise and use samples to test fragrances or beauty products. There was a limited staff presence, so if shoppers wanted to make a purchase, they could simply take items to the store’s checkout zone, where Payfree’s RFID reader was installed. They could then place the desired products in an open U-shaped scanning unit, where the reader automatically interrogated the tags.

Each tag ID number was linked to the corresponding product details in the software, and the system displayed the goods and prices on the station’s touchscreen. After reviewing the details in their listed shopping cart, customers could approve items for purchase and present their credit card to the contactless terminal, after which the software completed the payment transaction. The system also updated inventory data to indicate those items had been sold, and the shoppers simply left the store with their products.

L’Oréal’s focus was to enable self-checkout, though the software also provides companies with the ability to track inventory levels by capturing real-time updates indicating how many products have been sold, when they were replenished and when re-ordering may be necessary. “One of the great advantages of RFID-based checkout systems is the easy system extension,” Raddao states. “Once you have RFID tags in place, you can add on inventory management, emergency alert systems and much more.”

The system was designed to make entering, scanning, paying and leaving the checkout zone a smooth and frictionless end-to-end process, Raddao reports. Moreover, it could also provide merchants with the ability to detect if a tagged item was being removed without having been purchased, and to perform inventory counts.

Overcoming Size, Aesthetic and Metallic Challenges

Makeup and perfume packaging is typically made with metallic surfaces, Raddao says, such as foil packaging that can reflect or inhibit signal transfer during RFID communication, and this provided the greatest engineering challenge. “Since liquids and metallic surfaces can interfere with energy transfer and RFID system communication,” he explains, “conventional RFID labels are not the best choice for beauty products, such as perfumes, creams or mascara.”

Additionally, these kinds of products are usually small and extravagantly designed, making it difficult for companies to affix tags in such a way that they will not disrupt a product’s aesthetics. Therefore, Payfree selected Avery Dennison’s specialized cosmetics tag, then consulted with the company regarding tag calibration, data transaction filtering, and payment- and sensor-driven event handling.

Uwe Hennig

Uwe Hennig

The solution, which was used until the pop-up store closed in November, provided the experience L’Oréal sought, Raddao reports. “We received very positive customer feedback,” he recalls, “as the whole concept is focused on an end-to-end experience and is specially designed for the premium environment of luxury beauty retail.” He says the checkout system was easy for all age groups to use, and that it made the payment experience faster, easier and almost an invisible background process.

Avery Dennison’s AD456 on-metal tags was chosen for its high performance and reliability for inventory accuracy, as well as to provide fast, safe and convenient self-checkout, according to Uwe Hennig, Avery Dennison’s director of market development for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia and India. “The AD456 has been specifically designed to meet the demands of hard-to-tag products, such as items containing metals and liquids,” Hennig says, “extending the benefits of RFID to cosmetics, fragrances and skincare.”

In public statements, L’Oréal has indicated that the Bag Fast Track solution was easy to install. The reader station measured 2 square meters (26 square feet) in size, leaving more space for product display. The station could be plugged directly into an outlet for power, with an Ethernet connection for network connectivity.

Images: Payfree

Key Takeaways:

  • Thanks to RFID technology, Payfree was able to provide frictionless payment for L’Oréal pop-up store shoppers.
  • The system leverages Avery Dennison’s small-form-factor on-metal tags that do not disturb a product’s aesthetics, while providing reliable tag reads.