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Santa's Little Helper

We’ve all heard of Rudolph and his shiny nose but we’ve also heard that he’s quite busy on Christmas trying maintain the children's belief in him. What if he makes a mistake and it happens to be my kid who won’t get presents? How could technology help?

How do we know what do our kids want for Christmas? They see commercials, they interact with their friends, they study toy catalogs from heart, and they also go to brick-and-mortar stores to write a list for Santa. Here's where the parents and technology step in.

A toy story, A parent trap?

Imagine a toy store, full of everything your child wants to (no, must) have. We do not want to spoil our kids, but neither do we want to buy them the wrong presents. As the variety of similar kinds of toys is expanding, how to ascertain that the toy is precisely the one my child asked for? Let's bring in technology to help in this parent trap. When a child sees a nice object and says "I'm gonna ask for this from Santa", a parent grabs a cell phone equipped with NFC, and taps NFC tag attached to the toy. Any tapped items appear on a shopping list to a shopping list application such that is already familiar to us related to grocery shopping or compiling wedding lists at stores.

What happens with this NFC wish list information after the parent and child leave the store? The shopping list application on the cell phone shows a full list of all tagged items, which can be directly downloaded to the store's web pages under "My Wish List" action. When the kids are asleep, the parents can decide which presents will be ordered and which ones can wait until their next birthday for instance. The list can be modified online, and then either sent to the web service or to the retailer, who makes sure that the products will be collected and delivered to the customer. It will be possible to choose if the products should be delivered home or for a pick-up at the store. This whole process is extremely easy for the parent - all that is needed is an application that supports the NFC tapping installed on the cell phone, before taking the child to the toy store. Handy, isn't it?

Family Gifts Christmas

But could this work other way round?

Yes, it could. But in this point we need to take a short look at the tapping-and-tagging technology. In order to work perfectly, the NFC technology requires near contact reading meaning that the maximum reading distance is still very short. If thinking about the supply chain, UHF RFID is more beneficial for the business as it can be better utilized along the supply chain when the reading distances are longer. Thus, the NFC tag (or a QR code) could be located in the shop shelf next to the product's price tag, and the actual product would carry an UHF RFID tag. The aim for this kind of bi-tagging is that the NFC tag helps the customer, and the UHF RFID tag serves the distribution.

According to a local department store manager of a mid-size retail chain, one of the most common types of crisis before Christmas is the out-of-stock situation. It is a real nightmare, both for the store and for the customer. One reason for this is not recognizing the blockbusters early enough. This could be avoided with the help of technology, which will now be introduced. A suggestion for avoiding the nightmare before (and during) Christmas is that a store (not inevitably a toy store, but any store) creates a campaign - buy your presents from us, we'll guarantee you get the products if you tag them till xx-date at our store. After the "tagging campaign" time is up, the retailer informs the DC, who ensures that the stores get what they have ordered.

Some of the mentioned techniques are already in use - for instance, the "wedding present wish list" and ordering from the websites and picking the parcel from a brick-and-mortar store are very common practices, but in which ways could RFID technology enhance and boost the supply chain especially during seasonal sales? As retail stores already are taking advantage of UHF RFID identification to realize the current trends, the identification could also help in estimating the seasonal sales of these products. Mostly the stores are preparing for seasonal sales by looking at last year's sales and putting some extra on them, of course with some minor changes according to the consumer trends. Also any promotion has an impact on consumer behavior - if a glimpse of a home foot massage machine is constantly appearing in the commercial breaks during "prime time", the probability of that machine ending up in a shopping cart increases.

What happens before the wish list products are at the store?

As the out-of-stock situation is the key for a retailer's Christmas crisis, let's take a look at how the retailer receives the products - how this crisis could be avoided. This is explained in the figure below. The retailer's orders are based on the experience from the brand owner, it is the way of doing things when managing a department store belonging to a certain chain. A brand owner, who delivers some of the wish list's products to the DC, packs the products according to the retailers' orders. Here RFID helps in checking that there are right kind of products packed with right quantities, and delivers the information to the supply chain parties, also to the retailers. (Here we can see that the brand owner is the one benefiting from the order information, not the DC - although the DC needs to have enough buffer to fulfill the orders, the brand owner knows which kind of sales figures they should prepare for.) If the brand owner does not have the wish list products available, they can transfer the out-of-stock information immediately to the mobile app. They can also suggest which substitutive products they have in stock.

Christmas _article

In a DC, when collecting goods for a certain store, these "tagged" products can be packed into one pallet and the "ordinary" products into another in cross-docking phase. Moreover, the customer's wish list can already be compiled in the DC, which lightens the work at the retailer's (usually small) backroom where the wish list products are checked. RFID shows again the exact quantities and types of the products packed, and the items can be tracked through the whole delivery process. When the shipment reaches the store backroom, it is already in the system which pallet should be unloaded into the shop floor and which one contains the pre-orders. As the pre-orders are more or less compiled already in the DC, the customer receives the ordered products faster than ever.

Can we all have a merry Christmas with RFID?

Holiday season is special time with your family, and by having a few thoughtful moments before Christmas the whole season can be saved. Children are happy when they get at least something they have wished for, and for smaller kids the right presents are the best thing of Christmas besides eating treats.

We could now see that technology can enhance our family lives. Especially on Christmas time it can take one burden off from your shoulders - the presents. Santa Claus will deliver right presents, your kids will still believe in Santa, and even your wife will be surprised that this year she won't get another (or third, fourth…) home foot massage machine as the app shows your orders from recent years.

Merry Christmas!

2 comments on “Santa's Little Helper”

  1. Posted 30 August 2017 at 02:59:56

    Thanks for writing such a good article, I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing...

  2. Posted 30 August 2017 at 17:37:01

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