Uniqlo Self Checkout Is 50% Faster In Japan With RFID Technology

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Japanese apparel giant Uniqlo has quietly implemented what may be the most advanced and hassle-free self-checkout system in retail. Rather than scanning barcodes or looking up prices on a screen, customers simply place their clothing items into an open bin which then automatically tallies the items using embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. This nearly instantaneous process delights customers and moves lines faster, with checkout times cut by 50% compared to cashiers.

The technology behind this retail magic is actually quite simple. Tiny RFID tags costing just $0.04 each are sewn into price tags on every Uniqlo clothing piece. When items are placed in the self-checkout bin, RFID readers detect the tags and pull up the pricing information. Customers confirm the items and payment on screen, and off they go with receipt in hand.

Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing, began investing in RFID technology almost a decade ago not for front-end checkout but rather to transform its global supply chain. By tagging every item, the $19 billion retailer could closely track inventory from factories through distribution centers into stores, ensuring proper stock levels and styles. The falling cost of RFID chips, from $0.60 each 10 years ago to mere pennies now, is what made the billions of tags financially viable.

Once every piece of Uniqlo clothing carried embedded RFID chips, checkout automation became possible. Fast Retailing piloted the self-checkout machines in 2014 and saw 90% adoption in some markets. The company doubled down on RFID spending and rolled out the enhanced open-bin, no-scan registers first in Japan in 2019. By 2021 Uniqlo was trialing the innovative system in the US and Canada. Over the past 12-18 months it has become the norm at Uniqlo stores across North America.

And customers seem to love it. Uniqlo reports that 70-90% of in-store purchases now happen via self-checkout. According to first-hand accounts, shoppers are “amazed” by the hassle-free process and checkout speeds. The automated RFID system eliminates labor by completely removing the need for manual pricing or scans. And the consistency delights shoppers used to frustrations at traditional self-checkouts.

The widely positive response has likely exceeded Uniqlo’s expectations. The original goal was simply to improve customer service and checkout wait times, which previously stretched outside stores during busy seasons. RFID implementation has achieved those operational objectives and provided the side benefit of a vastly improved self-checkout experience.

Uniqlo stands relatively alone right now with RFID transforming the entire shopper journey from entry to exit. But other apparel retailers are taking notice, with plans to begin adopting RFID technology over the next two years. Uniqlo and parent Fast Retailing clearly recognize the value; RFID spending has doubled since 2016 when the company set out to digitally reinvent itself.

The falling cost of RFID tags and improving reader hardware continues to expand use cases for retailers. Inventory management remains the primary application, but checkout automation as pioneered by Uniqlo demonstrates the technology’s potential. For Uniqlo devotees like this writer, being able to grab those warm HeatTech long johns off the shelves and rapidly self-checkout is a seamless experience that keeps me coming back every winter. RFID has me checking out Uniqlo more than ever.

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