| Using a system involving high-frequency passive RFID tags and readers,
a single employee can record a store's entire 10,000-item inventory
in an hour.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr. 14, 2009—Indian jewelry retailer Bhima & Brothers Jewellers
(B&BJ) is tracking its high-value inventory and providing customers
with immediate information regarding its jewelry, with an RFID system
deployed at one of its five stores. The system has reduced the amount
of time the store requires to take inventory from 36 man-hours down
to one, and has decreased the time necessary to complete a sales transaction
from between six and eight minutes, to less than one minute.
Not only does RFID provide the company with faster and more accurate
inventory tracking, says Sundaresan Swaminathan, head of consumer
industry and retail at IT firm MphasiS, it also helps the retailer
improve customer service.
B&BJ first met with MphasiS in mid 2008, Swaminathan says, to
develop a system that could improve efficiency at its stores. The
jeweler wanted 100 percent inventory accuracy, and to be able to provide
correct product information to customers, says N. Gopalakrishnan,
manager of B&BJ's store in the city of Mysore. The retailer faced
several challenges—typically, each of its two-story, 3,000-square-foot
stores conducts inventory at the beginning and the end of every business
day. Each store typically stocks approximately 10,000 items, and because
of this large quantity, the inventory count was restricted to only
the most valuable goods. The store tracked not only those high-priced
items, but also an average total net gold weight in the store. "Getting
this with a manual operation was quite challenging," Swaminathan
Sundaresan Swaminathan, MphasiS' head of consumer industry and
In addition, the store management also sought a way to allow salespeople
more quality time with customers. Prior to installing the RFID system,
when a customer was interested in a piece of jewelry, a salesperson
took the item to the store's back room in order to look up details
about the jewelry, such as its weight, stone clarity and other information
that would assist the consumer in determining whether to purchase
it. This process was time-consuming.
B&BJ's Mysore store installed the system in February 2009. The
RFID hardware includes 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) passive tags
from Assa Abloy Identification Technologies (AAITG) that comply with
the ISO 15693 standard and offer a read range of 6 centimeters (2.4
inches). The store's deployment also includes two Feig Electronic
handheld RFID readers and two Omnikey PDAs with built-in RFID interrogators,
as well as an AAITG desktop reader installed at each of the store's
two point-of-sale terminals, according to Chandrashekar Sanikop, an
MphasiS delivery manager. All four handheld devices employ a Bluetooth
connection to transmit data to a back-end server.
The Feig handheld readers are used twice to take inventory of a store's
stock—at the beginning of each day, and again at the end. Employees
sweep the interrogators past every display and capture the unique
ID number encoded to each tag. MphasiS RFID middleware then pass that
data to the retailer's existing inventory-tracking system, which utilizes
Microsoft's Visual Basic 6.0 and Access 2007 database platform. The
ID number of each tag is linked to data regarding the corresponding
item, including the type of jewelry, along with its weight and size.
All of that information resides on B&BJ's inventory-tracking software.
The entire system was installed and integrated by e-Xseed Technologies
Whenever a customer requests information regarding a particular
item, a salesperson can use an Omnikey PDA to read that item's tag
ID number and provide data about it, including its price, based
on that day's cost of gold. When the shopper is ready to make a
purchase, the desired item is placed on the counter, where the RFID
system captures its unique ID number and provides pricing information
to the sales terminal, and the item is rung up by a salesperson.
The MphasiS software then updates the B&BJ inventory records
to show the jewelry has been sold, and the salesperson removes its
RFID tag so it can be reused.
The system took approximately four months to develop before installation,
says Vijay Maladkar, an MphasiS delivery manager. According to Maladkar,
the company had already determined, through extensive research,
that the MphasiS system should operate within the end user's existing
back-end software. "We knew that we would want to develop an
agnostic framework," he explains, adding that the goal was
to create an RFID solution that would work with a variety of hardware
systems, and back-end inventory management and billing systems.
"If a customer has an existing inventory management system,
for example, we can integrate with it."
an MphasiS delivery manager
The challenge with the B&BJ deployment, Maladkar says, involved
finding RFID hardware able to offer a reliable read rate despite the
presence of metal within the displays. Working with B&BJ and e-Xseed
Technologies, the store was able to deploy the system without the
need for changes. "The design is very intuitive from an end-user
perspective," Gopalakrishnan says, necessitating no major training
for the sales staff."
In the future, B&BJ hopes to include
an RFID-enabled loyalty card system that the retailer's frequent
customers could use to receive more personalized service and gain
discounts based on their transaction history at the store. Eventually,
the jeweler intends to install the system at all of its store locations.