Suppliers embrace RFID at retail show

RFID tagging was the theme of the day at the National Retail Federation's annual trade show in New York, as suppliers made a...

RFID tagging was the theme of the day at the National Retail Federation's annual trade show in New York, as suppliers made a series of product and partnership announcements.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of software suppliers and backing from retailer Wal-Mart Stores, which last year asked its top 100 suppliers to begin RFID-tagging shipments by the start of 2005, RFID technology is now making it into the mainstream.

Announcements at the show included:

  • Microsoft's Smarter Retailing Initiative, a framework for developing standards-based tools to ease the retail experience for consumers, salespeople and store managers. It is backed by 20 partners, including Accenture, which has developed several complementary tools, such as a system allowing shoppers to scan and pay for items as they are selected instead of queuing at the checkout.

    Microsoft will continue building out its portfolio of retail-focused software, anchored by the Windows XP Embedded operating system it introduced in late 2001. The system is used in more than 300,000 point-of-sale terminals worldwide. The company is working with customers including Circuit City Stores, 7-Eleven and Costco Wholesale.

  • SAP's release of an RFID package for capturing data and automating processes by the middle of the year. Built on the SAP Web Application Server and incorporating several other SAP modules, the product is now in testing with pilot customers.

    At its TechEd show in September SAP used RFID chips to store information on attendee badges. It also participates in German retailer Metro Group's Future Store project, an initiative centred on a shop in Germany, which serves as a testing ground for fledgling retail technologies.

  • IBM role as systems integrator for Metro Group's company-wide RFID rollout. Beginning in November, Metro Group will have its top 100 suppliers tagging pallets for RFID tracking. IBM is overseeing the project's strategy and implementation.

    IBM also announced that Sears Roebuck will be replacing its existing point-of-sale terminals in US stores with IBM SurePOS 740 systems, along with IBM receipt printers and flat-panel monitors. The rollout is forecast to be finished by June 2005. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

  • Sun Microsystems' plans to open an RFID testing centre in Dallas, where Wal-Mart suppliers can bang the bugs out of their RFID implementations. A second Sun testing facility in Scotland will open within a month.

    Sun is developing a portfolio of RFID hardware, software and service offerings, which it expects to make widely available in the second quarter this year. Office Depot and Benetton Group are among the retailers building around Sun's infrastructure.

  • Symbol Technologies' introduced a web-enabled self-service kiosk, which retailers can use to offer employees or customers on-floor access to information on product pricing, ordering and inventory data. It also debuted the Symbol Clientele 1:1 Solution Suite, a system allowing salespeople to use a handheld computer to update customer profiles, review purchase histories, check product details such as sizes and measurements, and plan appointments and follow-up correspondence.
  • Middleware supplier Tibco Software and RFID hardware maker Alien Technology plans to release a jointly developed system for linking business processes with RFID-generated events mid-2004.

Stacy Cowley writes for IDG News Service

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