What Are Smart Shelves?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Smart shelves interact with computer systems through radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to exchange information. These shelves have the capacity to read products, as long as they have RFID tags. They can also talk to stocking and store computers, handheld mobile devices, smart carts with their own RFID technology, and other equipment. This communications mesh provides a number of functions that can help a store run more smoothly.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

One application for smart shelves is in stocking. A store can know exactly what it physically has on hand because the shelves update in real time as products are bought and sold. The shelves can also highlight improperly shelved items to allow workers to find them again. Workers can check stocking data to see where they need to restock items. Some smart shelves can automatically order new supplies as they run low, or may send a warning message to a buyer or stock personnel to alert that member of the staff that something needs to be ordered.

With information from smart shelves, staffers can help customers find what they need. Customers can also search on their own without help from the staff. They may check a store computer or use an application on a handheld computer or smart cart to see if something is in stock and to find out where it is. The shelves can also update in real time to reflect new prices and other matters of interest; a consumer might want to know, for example, that an item on display is the last in stock.

This technology can also allow store personnel to identify thefts. If an object is taken off the shelf without adding it to a smart cart, or replacing it incorrectly, it may have been stolen. A staff member can discreetly assess the situation to determine what happened. This can cut down on losses, which may be important in a store with numerous portable items that tend to be targets for theft.

There are also advertising and research applications for smart shelves. Advertisers can determine which items are taken off the shelf for examination and how long customers look at them. They can use this data to determine which kinds of items tend to attract attention, and if shoppers use smart shopping lists, advertisers can also check for impulse buys by cross referencing the contents of a cart against the shopping list. Smart shelves can help stores determine the best placement for various products, and can help companies determine what sells and what does not.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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