Best Buy is the nation's largest-volume specialty retailer of consumer electronics, personal computers, entertainment software, and appliances - with more than 300 locations in 36 states. Stores average 45,000 square feet, providing a selection of 35,000 CD/cassette titles, 12,000 VHS and 1,500 DVD movies, more than 2,000 computer software titles, and numerous video games. If you've ever been to a Best Buy, you know that's just the tip of the iceberg.
How does Best Buy make sure its merchandise is labeled and priced correctly? The retail chain chose an automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) solution from Comtec Information Systems (Warwick, RI) and Telxon (Akron, OH).
Starting With CDs
Best Buy's retail development team pursued an integrated radio frequency (RF) printing solution with Telxon and Comtec several years ago, according to Tom Last, Best Buy's retail development manager. The goal was to allow employees to create price tags and labels at the shelf edge instead of in the back room.
"Best Buy's old system was time-consuming," says Ray England, Comtec's vice president of sales and marketing. "Employees took paper out to the floor to write down information, and went to the back to create the labels. That antiquated system involved too much room for human error. If an employee was distracted while writing, merchandise and shelf tags could easily be mismarked. Telxon sold the 960SL terminal to Best Buy, and we were told that the store wanted to do some printing without directly attaching to the printers. We had an application that could be adapted to run without printer cables. Employees could wear our Encore 2 printer or communicate within a 10-foot to 15-foot distance from where they were working. This solution was one of the first applications we did with a short-range radio communicating with the 960SL at the 916 MHz radio level."
The Dynamics Of Wireless
The first installations took place in the first quarter of 1999. Since Best Buy is based in Eden Prairie, MN, the first installations were put in pilot stores in that area. Installations were quickly completed in the rest of the stores and have been running for more than a year.
Now, Best Buy employees scan the UPCs on CDs, then the terminal wirelessly links with its host computer and gathers the correct product information. The information is sent back to the terminal via long-range radio - 2.4 GHz on a local area network (LAN). With short-range radio, the terminal sends the product information to the printer, and the correct label is printed in seconds.
At the start of their shifts, employees use the 960SL to scan the bar codes on the printers that they will use during their shifts. This action links the handheld terminals to the printers, so the printers can't inadvertently print to another terminal. When the 960SL goes into sleep mode when not in use, the Encore 2 automatically turns off, and vice versa.
"We developed this feature," explains England, "because it's easy to envision employees setting their units down and accidentally picking up a different unit. If they scan the bar code again, they are guaranteed that their handheld terminal and printer are linked."
"Once the initial solutions were deployed," says Last, "we determined that three units were needed instead of two. This let us expand the system's functionality. RF gives us remote printing on demand and full access to our database. The Comtec/Telxon solution let our employees complete signage and pricing tasks at the shelf edge, instead of in the back room."
According to England, the most difficult aspect of the installation was training. "The most interesting and challenging aspect was the integration of the short-range radio," he explained. "This was the first time Telxon put a short-range radio in a handheld. But, the solution worked so well that Best Buy ordered one more terminal and printer for each store. The company continues to add printers as it build stores."
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at NancyS@corrypub.com.