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How to decide between a mobile and a fixed RFID reader in retail environment?

At the heart of RFID investment are the readers. Although they are not always the costliest element, without them the investment makes no sense. This blog looks at retail use cases to offer some guidelines on when to choose mobile and when fixed readers.

The hardware needed should be chosen according to the need at hand. When looking at RFID from DC onwards, the different areas for RFID investment are 1) in transport and 2) in the store. As the use cases in transport are more limited, I offer just a viewpoint to purchasing the correct device there. When it comes to using RFID in the store, there are far more use cases, hence I use more time on discussing the choice between fixed and mobile. 

 

Fixed -readers -versus -mobile -readers

During transport

Reading items during transport is not always necessary. Many rely on reading the items at the following points: 1. when leaving the DC and 2. upon arrival at the store. However, if the parcel moves from vendor to another before arriving at the store, and if there is a reason to worry about shrinkage during transport, adding reading points will make sense. In the case of transport, the reading points are most sensible when they are mobile, so they can be moved from a vehicle to another and used where ever needed.

When considering the purchase of a mobile device to be used in transport vehicles, the main challenge would typically be the access of the central RFID database from the mobile device. Should the unit save all information to permanent memory and only update data when in the cradle? Or should all information be online, all the time?

During transport, the upload and download of information will have to rely on mobile phone networks; these days typically 3G or at least EDGE. As there are always blind spots, this should be considered at the point of purchase. Most mobile devices available have methods of handling the data transmission over these networks and the best units make sure the data is safe even when network connection might be missing. However, different operating systems and device manufacturers have different methods for this. Therefore one should choose an application for the mobile device that supports the data to be safe. Handling the secured access to the database should carry no extra cost no matter which device manufacturer is used, provided the OS of the mobile device is based on the same Windows family and preferably the latest edition of it (meaning for example Windows CE 6.0 or Windows Mobile 6.5).

Mobile devices with integrated or "clip-on" RFID readers typically offer better performance than a mobile phone / iPOD in combination with an external reader. When looking to reading the contents of full boxes, the best reading performance should be sought after with live tests. 

In the store

Most users of RFID have combined the use of mobile and fixed readers in the store. The market also offers several solutions for "fully automated stores", where fixed readers keep track of inventory at all times. In most cases however, such solutions have been tricky to install or too expensive. Especially retail chains operating stores in shopping centers would suffer as different retail stores would all need separate planning for fully fixed installations. For today's RFID users it would still be recommendable to use a combination of readers, and hence I will next describe the different RFID use cases and comment on which reader type would be suitable and why.

Cases where both mobile and fixed readers are suitable:

GOODS RECEIVING

Choose fixed when:

  • Receiving several boxes with hard-to-read items (such as jewelry or women's underwear)
  • No limitation on space

Choose mobile when:

  • Receiving batches of 1-10 boxes a day (limit the amount of items in a box to roughly 150 if possible)
  • The area of goods receiving process varies from store to store and typically you have limited space
  • Investment of fixed readers & installation would be too high

 

BACK ROOM TO FRONT ROOM REGISTRATIONS

Choose fixed when:

  • Staff should not influence the read
  • Space is not a limitation and enough space can be allocated to ensure that the direction of the stock can be registered
  • Well placed fixed readers are likely to give a more accurate read than mobile as there is typically no expectation of the exact items that will be moved.

Choose mobile when:

  • It is not possible to install fixed readers for example due to cabling, space or the location of the back room
  • Investment of fixed readers would get too high. The inventory accuracy is still better when registering stock with mobile readers

 

RE-TAGGING / RE-WRITING ITEMS

This depends on the process. When just re-writing information on existing tags, it is possible to use mobile devices and save on cost. When there is need to create new tags for instance, it may be necessary to have even a separate printer in the store. Typically the PoS application and mobile devices both make it possible to re-tag items. 

Cases best suitable for mobile devices

Mobile devices are best suited for cases where staff moves within the store and/or the tagged item could be anywhere in a known area. Such applications are:

  • Inventory & Cycle count (counting all stock)
  • Locate (finding items with the help of RFID)

Cases most suitable for fixed readers

When the RFID reading (and writing) always takes place in the same area, fixed reader is a good choice. Such operations are at least:

  • Point-of-Sale / Point-of-Exit (recognizing the items that are leaving a store)
  • Fitting room area (recognizing items that have been carried to the fitting room or other known area in the store)

Final tip

As several people with different IT knowledge will be operating the devices, there will be issues with the hardware no matter how reliable it is. Therefore good remote access to the devices can diminish the support costs significantly.

 

 

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