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RFID has game at Best Buy

IDTechEx has published a slick new 128-page RFID in action 2006/7 magazine that features case studies culled from its “RFID Knowledgebase” of more than 2,300 implementations in 85 countries. Of the approximately 25 articles is Best Buy’s implementation that includes smart shelves, electronically enabled shelving that  can read the tags of products. This permits the retailer to know whether or not a package is present on-shelf to help reduce out-of-stocks.

As part of an ongoing rollout, Best Buy, Richfield, MN, has mandated that its top suppliers tag pallets and cases to the same ISO 18000-6 EPC specifications demanded by other U.S. retailers.

It is also testing retail item-level tagging of video games sold in individual packages.

This is being done at one store using standard UHF (915 MHz) labels, meaning that the same RFID reader can be used for pallets, cases, and item-level tagging, though requiring different reader antennae.

Vue Technology (www.vuetechnology.com), a spinoff from MeadWestvaco, provided the networking hardware and software. It also designed and built the UHF near-field smart-shelf antennae.

“We did a complete business case,” says Best Buy RFID program director Paul Freeman, “and the majority of benefits come when we do things based on the information from a tag on the store floor.”

Best Buy tagged hundreds of its video games that retail for up to $60 each, such as new Microsoft Xbox titles, to meet several objectives, according to Freeman.

“We wanted to make sure that all of the game titles were physically in the store and have at east one of each title on the floor,” he says. “It’s labor-intensive to write down titles on paper and go to the backroom to find titles in the storage bin that match the list.”

Using the RFID system, Best Buys’ employees can now run reports that let them know what new titles have been brought in on a given morning and whether current titles on the floor may be running low and need to be replenished from the storage room. Inventory accuracy increased from 85% to 99% and store sales rose 14%.

Best Buy’s next trial may involve the tagging of games before they arrive at stores. “Imagine getting stuff in the loading area and knowing that we’ve received 12 titles and six are not currently in-stock on the store shelf,” says Freeman.

Vue Technology has developed an EPC-compliant RF networking technology and an enterprise-wide item-level RFID tracking solution that was trialed in Tesco stores in the U.K. on DVD shelves. Sales rose at least 4% because Tesco knew when DVDs were running out.

The technology uses as few as a single reader that is networked to thousands of RFID reader-antennae embedded in shelf fixtures. An RF router polls the antennae sequentially, so the reader only has to interrogate a few reader-antennae at a time.

For more information, visit the IDTechEx RFID Knowledgebase at www.rfidbase.com.

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