Staples Re-Usable RFID Trial Expanding To 10 More Stores

The Staples Canada trial with re-usable RFID active tags has worked out well and will be expanded to 10 more stores by the first week of December, but it's the security arrangements around the devices attracting the most attention.

The original Staples trial was at a single store in Montreal in May 2007, which then expanded with four more stores in March. The move anticipated for December will add five more locations in Montreal and five in Ontario.

"Results from the five-store pilot confirm the positive outcomes we witnessed during our proof-of-concept phase," said Joe Soares, director of process engineering at Staples Business Depot. "Supported by broader data collection and intense scrutiny, we again experienced 100 percent inventory accuracy, reduced shrink, increased sales and reduced store labor costs. This was all against an extremely compelling ROI."

Given the inventory tracking that the tags are required to do, they cost $8 each. But because they are being used repeatedly, Soares projected the per-use cost at about three cents.

Some had questioned whether that included the labor required to constantly remove and reattach the tags, but Soares said that hasn't been a factor, comparing it to the time needed for any security devices, such as spider wraps.

To keep labor down, the tag "just comes off really easily" with a "powerful magnet," Soares said. In an attempt to minimize fraudulent removals, the software has several rules. First, a button on the POS must be accessed to disassociate the tag from the item.

Second, the tag cannot be disabled more than one foot from that POS unit without setting off an alarm.

Soares also said he wasn't concerned about the tags getting damaged with all of that handling, saying that one of the trial stores had a flood and "the tags were in water for two days" and emerged undamaged. "And if it does get broken, it will call for help by stopping a constant beacon signal.

Two vendor partners—Fujitsu and AbsoluteSky—paid all of the costs for the first part of the trial, but Staples is paying for all costs now. Soares projected the per-store cost (including tags, the reader, software and the server) at "less than $100,000."