European Co-op Tries Out Various Options for Tagging Shoes

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ANWR Group, a European trade cooperative composed of footwear, leather-goods, sporting-goods and bicycle retailers, is conducting a three-store proof-of-concept (POC) project involving the RFID-tagging of shoes.

The organization hopes to prove whether radio frequency identification technology can effectively track inventory, prevent theft, optimize processes and enable sales. If the POC—which started in September 2016 and is expected to continue through the end of this year—is successful, ANWR Group hopes the results could help lead to a more detailed standard into the tagging of shoes for the benefit of ANWR's customers (shoe retailers).

ANWR Group is a German-based association of companies that serves small, midsize and large shoe retailers in Germany, as well as in other parts of Europe. The organization acts as a wholesaler for footwear, purchasing products from manufacturers and then making these goods available to its retailer members, according to Harald Krug, ANWR Group's divisional head of retail logistics.

The group provides services to retailers, such as an online platform to enable stores to sell their products on the internet, as well as seminars and training. It also examines trends, including logistics, for its customers. Although EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology has been deployed in retail markets for apparel, Krug says, the use of RFID for shoes has been less consistent. While a number of retailers have been RFID-tagging many products, he explains, shoes are not typically being tagged by manufacturers or retailers. When they are, GS1 standards call for the application of tags to a single shoe in each pair. ANWR speculates that this practice may be inadequate, however, since single shoes and their boxes can be separated on store displays, and is thus testing the technology with two tags for each pair of shoes—in some cases three, including a tag affixed to the cardboard box containing that pair.

To aid in setting up the project, ANWR enlisted the help of TailorIT, a firm specializing in the fashion industry, which is serving as a consultant on the project, according to Uwe Quiede, a principal consultant at TailorIT. TailorIT is helping ANWR conduct the POC by selecting hardware, installing readers and integrating read data.

The deployments are taking place within a 3,000-square-meter (32,300-square-foot) store in northern Bavaria, and at two 400-square-meter (4,300-square-foot) shops near Cologne. EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags, in the form of either a hangtag or an adhesive label on a hangtag, are being printed at both sites, and are then applied to each shoe in a pair. In some cases, a tag is also attached to the box in which those shoes are sold. The unique Electronic Product Code (EPC) numbers encoded to each of the three tags are linked together in the software as a single unit, Quiede explains. In that way, he says, if one shoe were removed from the box and placed on the sales floor, the RFID tags would make it possible to easily match that shoe with its mate and box. In the future, the group hopes to use three tag numbers that are largely identical except for an "indicator number" within the EPC.

ANWR is currently testing different RFID printers and readers onsite, while Syspro, an IT solutions company, is providing the software that stores the tag IDs and manages the collected read data. At the smaller store, ceiling-mounted RFID readers with integrated antennas are being tested to capture real-time data regarding the locations of tagged shoes on the sales floor. In addition, store employees will use handheld RFID readers to conduct inventory counts and compare them with data from the ceiling readers. They can also utilize the handhelds when searching for a particular shoe for a customer. For instance, if a shopper selects a shoe from the sales floor, a worker can use the handheld in the back room to locate and confirm the correct mate and box for that shoe.

At the point of sale, countertop RFID readers are being employed to capture the ID numbers of the shoes and boxes, as well as to confirm that the proper items (left and right shoes) are in the correct box. The system also creates a record of the purchase.

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Last update: Jan 06, 2017

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