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RFID guru Sanjay Sarma: self-checkout is on the way

Automated or self-checkout is coming to a retail venue near you soon. That was the message delivered by RFID visionary Dr. Sanjay Sarma at yesterday’s 4th Annual Auto-ID and Sensing Solution event hosted by MIT.

Given Sarma’s track record in the RFID and auto-ID industry, we’re taking him for his word. As RFID becomes a more common inventory management tool for retailers like Macy’s and Kohl’s, Sarma says the next natural step is for self-checkout options from anywhere in a store.

Dr. Sanjay Sarma says that retailers should strongly consider deploying self-checkout strategies.

Some retailers are already showing signs of moving in that direction. Last month RFID 24-7 reported that American Apparel expected to begin deploying self-checkout in select stores beginning this month. And Apple’s retail stores have no point-of-sale areas — customers can purchase product anywhere in the store by seeing a store associate with a mobile device.

When we started with this in late 90s, the first application everyone thought of was automatic checkout,” says Sarma, co-founder of the MIT Auto-ID Center and chairman of the board for GS1 EPCglobal. He notes that those dreams vanished quickly due to privacy fears and questions about tag performance.

“Let me say now that I believe self-checkout is going to happen much sooner than anticipated,” he said during a panel discussion. “Retailers should start to consider it very seriously again for the consumer who wants to buy something and leave the store without waiting in line. I think we’ll see it happen surprisingly fast.”

Dr. Bill Hardgrave, dean of the College of Business at Auburn University and the founder of the RFID Research Center, says that retailers are quickly learning that how they use RFID beyond simple inventory applications will be what sets them apart from the competition.

“It’s inevitable and self-checkout is going to happen sooner than later,” says Hardgrave. “In retail, the applications that we’ve been doing with inventory accuracy and out-of-stocks is becoming somewhat boring. It’s almost expected that retailers will do these things in order to stay competitive.

“That’s not where the excitement and the magic is at. Where it’s going to happen is when those retailers figure out how to do things with the data and the visibility they get from RFID. I think you’ll see more innovation, like self-checkout or mobile checkout to aide the customer in their shopping experience.”

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