How far would you go to get that perfect gift?

In a national survey of 1,061 adults conducted by Opinion Research Corp., 40% of respondents say they are concerned that the gift they are looking for will not be on store shelves when they want it this holiday season... at least not at the first store they visit. Among parents, that percentage climbs to nearly half.

"All you have to do is watch the news to see that Americans take their holiday shopping very seriously, regardless of what lengths they have to go to find what they are looking for," says Mike Meranda, president of EPCglobal US, whose parent corporation, GS1 US, has administered the universal product code (UPC) for more than 30 years. The group is spearheading the latest generation of radio frequency identification (RFID) -- electronic product code (EPC) technology.

Retail sales figures have shown that the last weekend before Christmas is the busiest shopping period of the year, but for many that last trip to the mall turns to aggravation when shoppers are surrounded by empty store shelves. Thus trips to more stores to find holiday treasures are inevitable.

How far are consumers willing to go to find that perfect gift? Some 30% of consumers said they are willing to travel 50 miles or more from their homes in hopes of finding that perfect gift at another store when it is out of stock at their favorite shopping location. Of that group, 11% are real stalwarts -- they say they will journey "as far as it takes."

"Even with the increasing role the Internet is playing in our lives, customers still show up at stores expecting to find certain items on the shelves, and when they do not find that item, they are inconvenienced," says Meranda. "When the store is out-of-stock for a particular product, consumers do not make a purchase, decide to purchase another brand, or travel to another store."

Nearly half of survey respondents are willing to give up something -- meals at their favorite restaurant for six months, using their cell phones or TV, and even their car for a week -- in exchange for a 100% guarantee that the gift they want will be on the shelf when they go shopping. It is a problem that frustrates consumers and retailers. Studies show stores lose $50 billion a year just from running out of stock early, Meranda notes.

The EPC, which is still in the early stages of development, could help lessen the likelihood of empty shelves and consumer inconvenience. EPC uses RFID technology in the supply chain to show retailers and their trading partners in real time when new replenishment orders need to be made -- before a store runs out of stock. The technology, developed in conjunction with MIT, is supported by over 500 leading companies in the U.S. In addition to eliminating out-of-stocks, it enables consumer benefits such as faster and easier product recalls, fresher produce on grocery shelves, reduced logistical costs, and assurance that the items purchased at stores and pharmacies have not been swapped for counterfeit.

With several large retailers as well as the U.S. Department of Defense now requiring suppliers to apply EPC/RFID technology on incoming shipments, EPCglobal US expects adoption of EPC-enabled technologies to accelerate in 2006. Members of the U.S. organization generated revenue last year of $12.4 trillion, nearly equal to the U.S. gross domestic product.

"We do not expect the EPC to replace the bar code any time soon," Meranda states. "The bar code will always be important to trade. But it is also important to know that improvements are coming to the shopping experience -- for the stores, and for shoppers as well.”

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