Basket-at-once scanning technology exists, but retailers aren’t biting

Posted April 3, 2009

At this year’s NRF show, the company 5stat demonstrated an RFID-based application for apparel retailers which scanned an entire counter full of clothing into the POS instantaneously, eliminating the need to drag each item across a barcode scanner. Microsoft has a similar demo unit in its Retail Experience Center that rings up copies of Windows Vista and Halo Wars in a blink; IBM has two such fully functional test labs for retailers, one in southern France, the other in New York.

It is incontrovertible that from a technology standpoint, basket-at-once scanning is available today. But the business case isn’t there yet, and the sad irony is that the retail segment that stands to benefit from it the most — supermarkets and grocery — will likely be the last to see it, if it does at all, thanks to some unique challenges.

“I’ve seen the demos, but to my knowledge, there is no retailer that has item-level RFID tagging on all live SKUs, which would be a prerequisite for a shopping cart scan-at-once,” said Jason Goldberg, vice president of marketing at retail design firm MTI.

Getting RFID tags into the supply chain

The stumbling block is not a technology one, and it is no longer really a cost one — tag prices are hovering close to the $.05 to $.08 range that most pundits said would be the “magic number” for mass adoption. The big problem, it seems, is finding a logical and cost-effective way to get the tags onto the products themselves.

The perfect scenario involves retailers getting their suppliers to put tags on the products before shipping them to the stores.

“If you have a retailer that is selling 50 different brands of apparel, the challenge is, they have to work with all 50 suppliers to tag their products,” said Himanshu Bhatt, global solutions executive and program director for IBM sensors and actuators. “But if you have a branded apparel retailer, the ones that have their own manufacturing, they have their own captive supply chain” and can integrate tagging as the last step in the manufacturing process.

Of course, those retailers with 50 brands can always slap the tags on the shirts themselves, but in doing so miss out on many of the supply chain benefits that item-level tagging provides above and beyond basket-at-once scanning, making it less of a value proposition.

Goldberg said few retailers have even come close to tagging enough of their products to make basket-at-once scanning a possibility.

“In my estimation, it will be some time before we see it,” he said.

Filed under: Point of Sale