La Vianda Case Study

Here is a list of terminology and definitions that are linked to the case study.
Thanks to for starting this list - we have expanded and hopefully credited all sources.

General Links

Here are some general links that will help with understanding ICT and Supermarkets:


Identification of people by measuring some aspect of individual anatomy or physiology (such as hand geometry or fingerprint), some deeply ingrained skill, or other behavioral characteristic (such as handwritten signature), or something that is a combination of the two (such as voice).

Click here for the Pay by Touch website
Pay by Touch Wallet
Pay By Touch is a free service that allows you to pay for purchases and access loyalty discounts simply by placing your finger on a sensor when you check out. Your finger links you, and only you, to your accounts – completely eliminating the need to carry cards, checks or cash. Savings and rewards are automatically applied when you check out.

When customers sign up for the Pay By Touch service, they create their unique Pay By Touch wallet. Just like a physical wallet, a customer's Pay By Touch wallet contains personal identifying information, financial account information, and loyalty and membership program information—all securely linked to that individual with a simple scan of their finger.

Click here for a good article (2004) on supermarkets and biometrics. Extracts from the article:

The most common application in supermarkets is identification of people cashing government and payroll checks. "The use of biometrics in supermarkets is not yet widespread," Prout said. "Supermarkets just started using this technology a couple of years ago. But fingerprints are by far the most popular biometric for supermarkets, probably because finger or thumbprints offer a good combination of ease of use, accuracy and cost effectiveness."

Typically, the customer must present a photo ID and one or more fingerprints when enrolling in a biometric program. The fingerprint is converted into a
250-character algorithm, and in future transactions, the customer need only hold his or her finger up to the scanner.
Customers who want to pay for groceries with a fingerprint must also provide a check for scanning into the system so the retailer can deduct the funds from a checking account. After that, all the customer presents is a fingerprint. "She could leave her purse in the car," said Edde, who wants to eventually expand biometrics to checkout.

Data mining

A method of comparing large amounts of data to find patters. Normally this is used for models and forecasting. However, a malicious hacker may use data mining to determine the best audience for a particular type of attack, based on collected information.

Dynamic pricing

Prices can be updated in real time according to the type of customer or current market conditions.


Article about dynamic pricing which cites supermarket products as an example:
A few weeks ago, I bought a big box of Kellogg's Raisin Bran at my neighborhood D'Agostino for $2.41. City-dwelling cereal aficionados will recognize this as the minor triumph it is -- $5 is the going rate in most Manhattan groceries. But why, you may ask, is it news? Because the $2.41 was my idea; I bid for my breakfast cereal on the Internet. I went to the recently opened Webhouse Club site (, looked up "Raisin & Bran Cereals," picked a few brands I liked, and entered a bid -- legally binding and backed by credit card. A minute later, Webhouse let me know that one of the brands I chose would sell me a box at my price. The company charged my American Express account, and I brought my Webhouse card to the closest participating store (most New York chains have signed on) to pick up my bargain-basement bran. (Published Jan 3, 2000)

Definition of Dynamic PricingOverview of Dynamic Pricing

How does this relate to supermarkets?
Pricing can quickly be changed in the central database.

EDI – electronic data interchange

A generic term for computer-to-computer transmission. Electronic data interchange (EDI) is the transmission, in a standard syntax, of unambiguous information of business or strategic significance between computers of independent organizations in many different

Sample EDI Purchase Order
ISA*00*     *00*  *08*61112500TST      *01*DEMO WU000003
GS*PO*611125001I*WU000003 *970911*1039*9784*X*003020

Electronic article surveillance

Electronic article surveillance is a technological method for preventing shoplifting from retail stores or pilferage of books from libraries. Special tags are fixed to merchandise or books. These tags are removed or deactivated by the clerks when the item is properly bought or checked out.

wikipedia article
There are four major types of electronic article surveillance systems :
  • Magnetic tags made of a strip of amorphous metal (metglas). Deactivation of these tags is done with magnetization/activation requires demagnetization. Due to the system being able to deactivate and re-activate this type of system is extremely suitable for libraries. Due to the convenient dimensions of the tags, and their very low cost, this system is popular in libraries and retail stores. Magnetic systems are often referred to as 'Electromagnetic' (or EM) systems. EM systems rarely appear in retail environments outside of Europe.
  • Acousto-magnetic, also known as magnetostrictive. These tags are thicker than magnetic tags and are thus seldom used for books. However they are relatively inexpensive and have better detection rates (fewer false positives and false negatives) than magnetic tags.
  • Microwave. These permanent tags are made of a non-linear element (a diode) coupled to one microwave and one electrostatic antenna. At the exit, one antenna emits a low-frequency (about 100 kHz) field, and another one emits a microwave field. The tag acts as a mixer reemitting a combination of signals from both fields. This modulated signal triggers the alarm. These tags are permanent and somewhat costly. They are mostly used in clothing stores.
  • Radio frequency. These tags are essentially an LC tank circuit that has a resonance peak anywhere from 1.75 MHz to 9.5 MHz. The most popular frequency is 8.2MHz. Sensing is achieved by sweeping around the resonant frequency and detecting the dip.

This tag is about 1.5 inches (3 cm) square. On the other side is an innocuous paper label that says, "Thank you for shopping with us!"


From howstuffworks: A label -- basically a miniature, disposable electronic circuit and antenna -- attached to a product responds to a specific frequency emitted by a transmitter antenna (usually one pedestal of the entry/exit gate). The response from the label is then picked up by an adjacent receiver antenna (the other pedestal). This processes the label response signal and will trigger an alarm when it matches specific criteria. The distance between the two gates, or pedestals, can be up to 80 inches wide. Operating frequencies for RF systems generally range from 2 to 10 MHz (millions of cycles per second); this has become standard in many countries. Most of the time, RF systems use a frequency sweep technique in order to deal with different label frequencies.


Point of Sale/ Electronic point-of-sale


A computer terminal used in retail stores that serves the function of a cash register as well as collecting sales data and performing other data processing functions; captures information and commands at the point of origin of a transaction, typically in a retail environment (link).

Ever since electronic tills replaced mechanical ones, EPOS has been a means both of performing transactions and automatically recording sales information for accurate accounting and the analysis of sales patterns.

Click here for Wikipedia: POS, electronic funds transfer
Click here to see an animation of how EPOS works.

This is a funny clip about EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale):

RFID- Radio Frequency IDentification

Refers to the technology that uses devices attached to objects that transmit data to an RFID receiver. An alternative to bar coding. Advantages include data capacity, read/write capability, and no line-of-sight requirements.

IBM advert showing RFID in the supermarket:

A linkto an IBM advertisement on tracking goods with RFID

Talking Tags (extracts from Howstuffworks):

When the RFID industry is able to lower the price of tags, it will lead to a ubiquitous network of smart packages that track every phase of the supply chain. Store ­shelves will be full of smart-labeled products that can be tracked from purchase to trash can. The shelves themselves will communicate wirelessly with the network. The tags will be just one component of this large product-tracking network.

The other two pieces to this network will be the readers that communicate with the tags and the Internet, which will provide communications lines for the network.
Let's look at a real-world scenario of this system:
  • At the grocery store, you buy a carton of milk. The milk containers will have an RFID tag that stores the milk's expiration date and price. When you lift the milk from the shelf, the shelf may display the milk's specific expiration date, or the information could be wirelessly sent to your //personal digital assistant// or //cell phone//.
  • As you exit the store, you pass through doors with an embedded tag reader. This reader tabulates the cost of all the items in your shopping cart and sends the grocery bill to your bank, which deducts the amount from your account. Product manufacturers know that you've bought their product, and the store's computers know exactly how many of each product need to be reordered.
  • Once you get home, you put your milk in the refrigerator, which is also equipped with a tag reader. This smart refrigerator is capable of tracking all of the groceries stored in it. It can track the foods you use, how often you restock your refrigerator and can let you know when that milk and other foods spoil.
  • Products are also tracked when they are thrown into a trash can or recycle bin. At this point, your refrigerator could add milk to your grocery list, or you could program the fridge to order these items automatically.
  • Based on the products you buy, your grocery store gets to know your unique preferences. Instead of receiving generic newsletters with weekly grocery specials, you might receive one created just for you. If you have two school-age children and a puppy, your grocery store can use customer-specific marketing by sending you coupons for items like juice boxes and dog food.
In order for this system to work, each product will be given a unique product number. MIT's Auto-ID Center is working on an Electronic Product Code (EPC) identifier that could replace the UPC. Every smart label could contain 96 bits of information, including the product manufacturer, product name and a 40-bit serial number. Using this system, a smart label would communicate with a network called the Object Naming Service. This database would retrieve information about a product and then direct information to the manufacturer's computers.

The information stored on the smart labels would be written in a Product Markup Language (PML), which is based on the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). PML would allow all computers to communicate with any computer system similar to the way that Web servers read //Hyper Text Markup Language// (HTML), the common language used to create //Web pages//.

We're not at this point yet, but RFID tags are more prominent in your life than you may realize. Wal-Mart and Best Buy are just two major merchandisers that use RFID tags for stocking and marketing purposes.

Read howstuffworksarticle on RFID
Visit this site for more information about RFID and dynamic pricing.
Visit IBM's site for RFID information and retailing

Some of the issues surrounding RFID technology. From CBN:

BBC Click news articles: Alarm over shopping radio tags, Big Brother at the Supermarket Till,
Other links: Tesco's Radio Barcodes

Smart cards

A smart card is a plastic card about the size of a credit card, with an embedded microchip that can be loaded with data, used for telephone calling, electronic cash payments, and other applications, and then periodically refreshed for additional use.

From Howstuffworks:
The "smart" credit card is an innovative application that involves all aspects of cryptography (secret codes), not just the authentication we described in the last section. A smart card has a //microprocessor// built into the card itself. Cryptography is essential to the functioning of these cards in several ways:
  • The user must corroborate his identity to the card each time a transaction is made, in much the same way that a PIN is used with an ATM.
  • The card and the card reader execute a sequence of encrypted sign/countersign-like exchanges to verify that each is dealing with a legitimate counterpart.
  • Once this has been established, the transaction itself is carried out in encrypted form to prevent anyone, including the cardholder or the merchant whose card reader is involved, from "eavesdropping" on the exchange and later impersonating either party to defraud the system.
This elaborate protocol is conducted in such a way that it is invisible to the user, except for the necessity of entering a PIN to begin the transaction.
//Smart cards// first saw general use in France in 1984. They are now hot commodities that are expected to replace the simple plastic cards most of us use now. Visa and MasterCard are leading the way in the United States with their smart card technologies.
The chips in these cards are capable of many kinds of transactions. For example, you could make purchases from your credit account, debit account or from a stored account value that's reloadable. The enhanced memory and processing capacity of the smart card is many times that of traditional magnetic-stripe cards and can accommodate several different applications on a single card. It can also hold identification information, keep track of your participation in an affinity (loyalty) program or //provide access to your office//. This means no more shuffling through cards in your wallet to find the right one -- the smart card will be the only one you need!
Experts say that internationally accepted smart cards will be increasingly available over the next several years. Many parts of the world already use them, but their reach is limited. The smart card will eventually be available to anyone who wants one, but for now, it's available mostly to those participating in special programs.

Smart shelves

Automatic and instantaneous price and article information as well as interactive cross-promotion offerings at a glance are among the features offered by the new Smart Shelf with video on demand functionality.

News item on smart shelves (2003) from CNET Extracts from the article:
Gillette, Wal-Mart and the U.K.-based supermarket chain //Tesco// plan to install specially designed shelves that can read radio frequency waves emitted by microchips embedded in millions of shavers and related products.
The shelves can scan the contents of the shelves and, via computer, alert store employees when supplies are running low or when theft is detected, said Gillette spokesman Paul Fox.

Consumer goods companies, such as Gillette and Procter & Gamble, say they are interested in smart shelves as a tool to help increase sales by ensuring that store shelves are always stocked with their products. With stock levels being continuously monitored by computers receiving wireless signals from the products themselves, retailers would no longer have to rely on employees to monitor their shelves.

In one scenario envisioned by retailers and manufacturers, computers sensing that stock is running low could automatically place an order for more--either by informing an employee to retrieve more products from a storage room or by notifying the manufacturer that another shipment is needed.

Smart Shelves
This is a technology in which shelves can be created to track what type of stock, and how much of it they have. The principle behind this is a system which would alert employees to restock certain products if the stock falls under a certain level, or it would send an order to the manufacturers in order to restock in that particular product.

It is very similar to the EPOS system, except instead of tracking items as they are bought, this can be used to track products as they have placed onto the shelf or when they are taken off the shelf, therefore eliminating the problem of possible lost stock due to thievery, misplacements or other mistakes.

How the stock is tracked is through the chip that is embedded in the products, this chip (RFID tag) would send out radio frequencies which the smart shelves would be able to pick up. This therefore allows the shelf to have a constant real-time scanning of where the products are at anytime (as long as the product is within range).

Case Studies:
Major retailers to test 'smart shelves'
- A case study on how the technology works, and how its tested.
Big Brother at the supermarket till?
- How this technology works and what are the concerns?
Alarm over shopping radio tags
- Tracking, privacy concerns.

UPC / Bar codes

Universal Product Code (UPC) is a unique product identification number that is used by items that will be scanned at Point-Of-Sale.

A bar code!

In the UPC-A barcode, each digit is represented by a seven-bit sequence, encoded by a series of alternating bars and spaces. Guard bars, shown in green, separate the two groups of six digits.

Click here to generate your own barcode. This website gives lots of information about barcodes, RFID and lots more.

The code is split into two halves of six digits each. The first one is always zero, except for products like meat and produce that have variable weight, and a few other special types of items. The next five are the manufacturer's code; the next five are the product code; and the last is a "check digit" used to verify that the preceding digits have been scanned properly. Hidden cues in the structure of the code tell the scanner which end is which, so it can be scanned in any direction. Manufacturers register to get an identifier code for their company, then register each of their products. Thus each package that passes over a checkout stand has its own unique identification number.

Here are 5 advantages of barcodes:

1. Speed: A bar code label of twelve characters can be wanded in approximately the time it takes a keyboard operator to make two keystrokes.

2. Accuracy: For every 1,000 characters typed by a keyboard operator, there are an average of ten keying errors. For an Optical Character Reader (OCR), there is one error in every 10,000 reads. With wands, barcode systems approach one error in every 3,000,000 characters, and with laser technology, they approach one error in 70 million entries.

3. Data Integrity: Probable number of substitution errors per 3,400,000 characters
Data Entry Method
Keyboard Entry
OCR Scanning
Barcode scanning (Code 39)

4. Ease of Implementation: Operators of bar code scanners can learn to use the equipment effectively in less than 15 minutes. System costs are lower than other means of data entry because of the existence of interfacing hardware and software. Barcode labels can cost less than a penny apiece, are easily read by thousands of commonly available devices, and can be printed universally.

5. Cost Effectiveness: Barcode systems have a demonstrated payback period of six to eighteen months, and they provide the highest level of reliability in a wide variety of data collection applications. Barcode systems create value not only by saving time, but also by preventing costly errors.

The following is an extract from the wikipedia article:
The EAN was developed as a superset of UPC, adding an extra digit to the beginning so that there would be plenty of numbers for the entire world.
The prefix digit 0 has been reserved for UPC, and in fact the GS1 US mandated all retail systems in the United States and Canada be able to recognize both UPC and EAN by January 1, 2005.
UPC usage notes:
  • Currently all products marked with an EAN will be accepted in North America in addition to those products already marked with a UPC.
  • Any product with an existing UPC does not have to be remarked with an EAN.
  • In North America the EAN adds 40% more codes mainly by adding 10 to 13 to the 00 to 09 (0 to 9 in UPC) already in use. This is a powerful incentive to phase out the UPC.

Wireless communications

Wireless communication is the transfer of information over a distance without the use of electrical conductors or "wires". The distances involved may be short (a few meters as in television remote control) or very long (thousands or even millions of kilometers for radio communications).

Self Scanning

Self-scanning checkout, also called "self-checkout" is an automated process that enables shoppers to scan, bag, and pay for their purchases without human assistance. Typically, a self-scanning checkout lane looks very much like a traditional checkout lane except that the shopper interacts with a computer's user interface (UI) instead of with a store employee.
The shopper begins the checkout process by touching the computer's welcome screen or, with some systems, by simply beginning to scan items. Once the checkout has been initiated by the shopper, the computer's animated voice provides the shopper with step-by-step instructions about how to scan their items and where to place them once they've been scanned.

Self Scanning

When the shopper scans an item, the item's barcode provides the computer with the information it needs to determine what item is being scanned, as well as the item's weight and current price. If the store uses security tags, the system can also deactivate them during the scanning process. If the security tag is not deactivated, an alarm system sounds when the shopper leaves the store.
When the computer's animated voice directs the shopper to place the scanned item in a waiting shopping bag, the item is really being placed on a security scale.If you tried to fool the system by scanning a candy bar and putting a roast beef in your bag instead, the system would tell you to remove the item and scan it again. At the same time, the system would alert a cashier supervisor to pay attention to what was going on at that particular checkout stand. Typically, there is a cashier supervisor for every four self-scanning stations.
Depending on the system, payment at a self-scanning checkout can be made by debit card, credit card, or cash.