May 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

The RFID `SmartStore`

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Moreover, BGN can now check storewide inventory three times a week instead of its old policy of once a year, an important step that addresses a common bookstore problem of books displaced by shoppers, enabling the Selexyz Scheltema store to provide frequently updated information on the exact location of books, Vink says. Under the old system, he adds, BGN did its annual inventory in early January, temporarily closing the store and losing sales in the process, then a month later would no longer have accurate records on more than half its in-store inventory. “There wasn’t a link between the physical presence of books in the store and the store’s software administration,” he says.

Making that link possible now, in an affordable and efficient software suite, Vink says, is the web services-based “service-oriented architecture,” or SOA, that integrates the RFID reader and scanners with the Progress software applications. The SOA uses Internet protocol, XML and other web services technology to automatically flow RFID data throughout the Progress suite, so that updated information on book inventory can be immediately seen by BGN managers using web browsers as well as by shoppers at a store kiosk.

Kick from kiosks

Thanks to the new RFID SmartStore program, a customer in the Selexyz Scheltema store can use an in-store kiosk to search for a book using Progress Software’s EasyAsk site search tool. And because each book’s RFID tag and shelf location are entered into the Progress store operations software suite, the customer immediately sees if the book is in stock and where in the store it’s located. In addition to the EasyAsk search tool, BGN uses three other web-enabled Progress applications: Apama ESP for processing RFID data, the Progress OpenEdge platform for processing store sales, and Sonic ESB as the integration backbone.

In its first ten days of serving customers, the RFID-enabled kiosk received 2,000 inquiries, Vink says. “Without any input from a store clerk, the kiosk tells a customer if a requested book is in and where it is,” he says. “If the book isn’t in, the system automatically asks the customer if she wants to order the book.”

A customer who orders an out-of-stock book through the kiosk enters her e-mail address or cell phone number and the system automatically sends her an alert when the book arrives. The system gives the customer the options to request home delivery or pick-up in another BGN store.

ROI on RFID

With the combination of increased sales, better service, faster inventory handling and fewer employees, BGN is figuring Selexyz Scheltema’s RFID system will earn a return on investment within 14 months, Vink says.

BGN’s annual sales are now at about €165 million, but it expects to increase sales over the next few years to about €200 million, or about 20% of the €1 billion Dutch book market, Vink says. Thanks largely to the early success of the RFID program, “we’re feeling confident that we can reach those numbers,” he says, adding that BGN plans to extend the RFID system to all of its stores over the next two years.

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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