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Photos: Newest tech in oldest bookstore

A Dutch bookstore is located inside a 12th century church. But don't let that fool you--it uses the latest RFID tracking system.
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By Andy Smith on
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1 of 8 Andy Smith/ZDNet
A Dutch bookstore is located inside a 12th century church. But don't let that fool you--it uses the latest RFID tracking system.
The historic town of Maastricht in the Netherlands is home to one branch of the country's second largest book chain, BGN, housed in a striking 12th century church. But its location isn't the most interesting thing about it--the Selexyz Maastricht store is home to one of the first and most extensive rollouts of RFID tracking technology in the world.



Photo credit: Jo Best



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Each tag costs around 19 cents, a sum BGN's CIO, Jan Vink, describes as "not prohibitive". Vink said a number of other booksellers--including Barnes & Noble and Blackwells--have visited the store already to see how the project is going. He is hoping that with more retailers using item-level RFID-tagging prices will come down.


Photo credit: Jo Best


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Each and every one of the 250,000 books kept in the Maastricht store is RFID chipped, by means of a stick-on paper label with an integrated tag, which sits alongside the traditional bar-coded price sticker.

Vink said the company is hoping to introduce a single label, which will be attached to the books at the distributor, from next year.


Photo credit: Jo Best


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When a consignment of books arrive at the store, they are put through a scanner like this which can read all the RFID tagged merchandise in one go.

Photo credit: Jo Best

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While BGN's RFID system helps the retailer identify books as they arrive at the store and reduce theft, there remains little at present the bookseller can do to recover a book if a shopper picks it up and replaces it on a different shelf--the book is essentially lost.

One solution to the problem is "smart shelves"--where shelving units themselves are equipped with RFID scanners, enabling them to identify all books stored within the unit and spot any misplaced titles.

Currently, however, the Maastricht Selexyz store doesn't have such units. Vink told silicon.com the cost of the smart shelves is currently too high but the book chain hopes to install them in the next couple of years. The shelving used in the store at present is metal--which can cause read problems for the RFID scanners. It's also the reason why the store reports problems scanning the Guinness World Records book, which has an aluminium cover.

Photo credit: Jo Best

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This RFID scanner is one of a number put at the disposal of the customers. By pressing the book against the scanner, shown on the right, shoppers can instantly check the price of their book. The RFID reader will scan the chip for the tag's ID number, check the number in the database and display the cost and other details of the book.

The system is supplied by vendor Progress and uses natural language search to help shoppers track down their desired tomes.

Photo credit: Jo Best

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Scanners are also used by BGN staff to take inventory. Staff can use the handheld scanner--the beige box shown here--to read the tags held on the books. The titles are then displayed on screen.

As an early model of such kit, the trolley is somewhat bulky and staff are hoping future iterations shrink in size.

Photo credit: Jo Best

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The tills used in the Selexyz shops "blow up" the tag once the book it is attached to has been bought. While the decision to destroy the tags safeguards shoppers' privacy--tags cannot be read once the book is purchased--it also means BGN won't be able to use the tags to track and authorize returns.

The store uses more Progress tech to govern the transactions as well as manage data generated by the RFID system.

Photo credit: Jo Best

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