Eyewear Retailer Finds RFID Helps It See Its Merchandise More Clearly

Santa Fe Optical applies EPC tags to all of the frames it sells, helping it to eliminate shoplifting and streamline inventory management.

Sept. 11, 2008 — For about a year now, Santa Fe Optical has been employing RFID-enabled security system at one of its three eyewear stores in Austin, Texas, effectively cutting shoplifting losses from about $12,000 per year to zero. Now, the company is adding an RFID-based inventory management system to the mix.

The retailer, which offers optical services and maintains a lab for fitting lenses to frames at two of its store locations, is using 915 MHz EPC Gen 2 RFID tags from Avery Dennison's Printer Systems division. The tags, designed and preprinted by Avery Dennison, are shaped in an hourglass configuration, with adhesive backing that can be affixed to the eyeglass temples (the parts of the frame extending to the ears). Electronic Inventory Solutions (EIS), located in Carrollton, Texas, is providing the RFID hardware—including handheld RFID interrogators and portals—as well as integration services.

When Santa Fe Optical opened its third location in Austin, more than a year ago, the store experienced an uptick in theft, resulting in losses of up to $5,000 per incident. Bob Ross, an optometrist who owns the eyewear retailer, began seeking a security system that would not require tags as large as those utilized for traditional electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems. Customers may have difficulty trying on an eyeglass frame if an EAS tag—which typically measures approximately 1.5 inches to 2 inches in length, 1 inch in width and an eighth of an inch in thickness—is attached to it.

"One of appealing aspects of RFID was the small size of the tags," says Darryl Hubbard, president of EIS. Ross began working with EIS, which, about one year ago, installed an RFID-enabled door portal with an antenna infrastructure hooked up to an alarm. Since the installation, employees have been affixing RFID labels to the eyeglasses' temples as they are received into the store's inventory. Before it is attached to the frame, the paper-thin label measures about 1.75 inches by 1.25 inches in size. When applied to a frame's temple, the label is folded in half. Each label has a number printed on it—the same number encoded to the RFID chip inside the tag. At that time, employees manually input the RFID tag number into the store's inventory database, along with other information about the frame, such as the manufacturer, date received and price.

As a pair of frames is sold, employees remove and discard its RFID tag. If a tag has not yet been removed and a customer attempts to pass through the portal and out the store's front door, an alarm will sound. "At the end of the day, what this has done for Dr. Ross—the store went from about $12,000 in theft a year down to zero," Hubbard says. "The [RFID-enabled security] system was actually half that in cost." (Ross was unavailable to speak with RFID Journal by press time.)

The RFID tags have proven to be very reliable, Hubbard says. "Avery Dennison has never sent us a tag that was inoperable," he adds.

Because the security system has been so successful, Santa Fe Optical has decided to expand the RFID system to its inventory processes, which have typically been performed manually, using pen and paper. EIS is currently in the process of installing a system that includes a handheld RFID reader that employees can use to automatically take inventory throughout the store. The closed-loop RFID system is being integrated with Santa Fe Optical's inventory database, and Hubbard indicates the inventory management system will be up and running in approximately two months.

Here's how it will work: On the store's sales floor, eyeglasses are displayed and grouped in zones by designer or manufacturer. Once the inventory management system is in place, the staff will be able to download onto the handheld a list of inventory numbers that are supposed to be within a specific zone, then walk through that zone with the handheld reader. A small screen on the reader will display the list of eyeglass inventory numbers; as the interrogator captures the RFID tags on the eyeglass frames within that zone and correlations are made with the numbers on the list, the numbers will disappear from the screen. If any numbers remain on the screen, the employees can walk through the remainder of the store in an attempt to locate the corresponding frames.

According to Hubbard, the RFID-enabled system will help Santa Fe Optical reduce the time required to conduct inventory of the store's 800 to 1,000 frames by at least 80 percent. Using one handheld reader, he estimates, an employee would need only about 40 minutes to conduct a complete inventory at the store, based on an in-store test of the management system that EIS undertook. "Without RFID, it takes at least eight hours," he states.

Once the inventory management system is installed in that store, Santa Fe Optical plans to implement both the RFID-enabled security system and the RFID-enabled inventory management system in its two other locations. This, Hubbard says, is likely to occur within the next six to eight months.


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