The Internet of Things. How RFID helps keep tills ringing at Christmas

Dec 16, 2014

Christmas_Shopping.jpg6 million rolls of Sellotape are sold in the run up to Christmas, 25 Million Christmas puddings are eaten in the UK each year and 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper is sold in the UK each Christmas.

These figures indicate the scale of a retailers Christmas and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is playing a greater role in helping retailers to manage their volumes with greater efficiency.  RFID is one of the base layers of the Internet of Things (IoT) hierarchy, so is a good place to start looking at the practical benefits of the IoT.

By using RFIDs, all kinds of things can be tagged, firstly for unique identification and secondly so that precise locations can be determined.

RFIDs can take different forms. The best known is those found in retail and distribution which usually takes the form of an electronic label or tag which can be attached to any item or group of items. Whenever they receive a certain signal from an RFID reader, they send back a signal to the reader. The returned signal is unique to the tag, enabling it to be identified.

RFID tags do not require an energy supply. The energy from the incoming signal is sufficient to generate the return signal, at least for a distance of a few centimetres, which is usually sufficient.

Retailers and internet distributors such as Amazon can use RFIDs for large volumes, where the technology is most effective. In combination with a reader and product information system software, it becomes very easy for stores and warehouses to count huge numbers of products flying off the shelves in the Christmas rush, just by moving the reader past the tags or vice versa. This can become a fully automated process for tracking products throughout the supply chain and to effectively manage stock holding and replenishment, ensuring that they don’t run out during the busy Christmas period.

Christmas_Tree.jpgAdditionally, when a customer takes a product from the shelf and puts it in their trolley, a shelf reader will register this by reducing the amount of that product in the stock database and informing when replenishment stock needs to be procured. Furthermore, if there is a reader in the trolley it can automatically register the product so that payment can be done through an automated payment point rather than queuing for a cashier, like the devices that are found in larger supermarkets.

By combining different technologies such as RFID, sensor networks and intelligent accounting software, retailers can keep track of their stock, keeping customers happy by reducing off-sales and minimising their costs.

RFID also allows in-store monitoring of products, such as their type and variety, state of packaging, storage conditions, expiry date, remaining stock levels and changes in the products location. It could also permit analysis of consumer activity at point of purchase, such as time spent in a specific area, in front of a product or products they are interested in (e.g. picked up but not bought).

From all of this data, retailers will be able to analyse the flow of goods in the supply chain and store, the efficiency of the marketing strategy and the behaviour and satisfaction of customers according to the supply of product.

In real time, observation of the way the product impacts the consumers’ behaviour can be seen.

This example is an illustration of how the connectivity and data generation of the IoT can transform the way businesses will operate more efficiently and provide new insights into consumer preferences and behaviour.

Just one of the many ways the Internet of Things is transforming our lives and businesses.

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