VoIP Meets RFID In a Japanese Dressing Room

In a dressing room in the huge Japanese department chain Mitsukoshi, half-dressed customers scan RFID-tagged jeans and then use an IP telephone to check inventory and call for more clothes to be brought in.

Workers at the $8.5 billion retail Tokyo-based chain traditionally waited outside dressing rooms, listening for instructions to bring more clothes. In the new experimental system, the workers can stock shelves while waiting for their Voice-over-IP phone to ring and for the customer to ask for something.

But those requests will most likely be quite specific. With most of Mitsukoshi's clothing already RFID-tagged, customers can scan the clothing in to quickly check inventory displayed on the RFID-reader-equipped Cisco phone's 3.38 x 4.5 in. touchscreen display. The display details the same product in various sizes and colors as well as similar products, showing inventory status of all of the choices. A customer selects a preferred item, hits a button and the phone rings with the sales associate, who instantly can see the dressing room that is calling and the particulars of the products desired.

Not only does the phone's communications abilities make the system run more smoothly, but it's a much more cost-effective alternative to a multimedia kiosk, said Manoj Fernando, an EVP of Business Development at Litescape, one of the vendors involved in the project.

"For them to have put in a touchscreen kiosk, that would have run about $20,000 to $25,000," Fernando said. The VoIP setup costs about $700 to $800. "That's a lot cheaper," he said.

The system accesses the store's realtime inventory because the system is directly into both inventory and the chain's POS system. For products that do not have an RFID tag, the system also can scan a traditional barcode.

An unidentified spokesperson for Mitsukoshi issued a statement about the trial at the chain's Ginza store, claiming a 15.8 percent sales increase compared with the prior year's identical month. ?We were able to increase customer service by lowering the wait time. Customers can access real-time information themselves and talk to a sales person quickly and when desired,? the anonymous spokesperson for Mitsukoshi was quoted as saying. "These applications help differentiate our service from the competition and in return build customer loyalty."

Litescape's Fernando said his company has already started demonstrating the system in the United States, with several retailers?including Abercrombie and Fitch, the Home Depot, the Gap and Virgin Mega?agreeing to see those demos.