Item-level data and the 3 key building blocks to supply chain optimisation - visibility, traceability, and accountability

The 3 Fundamentals of Retail Supply Chain Optimisation

Managing the flow of merchandise in retail supply chains has always been a challenge.

Traditionally, the large quantities being dealt with meant that visibility of merchandise was poor. Items were tracked and accounted for in rough quantities, not consistently or accurately enough to hold suppliers and distribution centres accountable for mistakes and inaccuracies. This meant a fair amount of leakage, either of efficiency or directly in the form of physical shrinkage as items become ‘lost’, damaged or shipped incorrectly.

Fast forward to the present day, with advanced technology like RFID and the IoT, and the standard for retail supply chain management has changed. ‘Supply chain 4.0’ can effectively track and trace individual items from source to store, utilising RFID technology to track individual products and the Internet of Things to store and leverage this information on a digital platform or cloud.

The data and visibility provided by such digital supply chains are extremely valuable, allowing retailers to:

●Quantify the performance of the supply chain (visibility),

●Identify “the last known location of items” (accountability),

●Inspect the history of items and even raw materials (traceability).

Here are the 3 fundamentals of retail supply chain optimisation using item-level data:

Visibility

“To be able to see…”

Supply chain visibility is a growing priority for retailers. According to a report by Zebra Technologies, 72% of retailers are working on digitizing their supply chains in order to achieve real-time visibility. Knowing exactly what is in the pipeline allows retailers to control inventory more efficiently, improve operations between stores and DC’s as well as offer effective omnichannel services and delivery options.

However, the majority of supply chains don’t have anywhere near this level of visibility, as 62% of supply chains operate with a limited view over merchandise flow. This is because goods move along the supply chain in such large quantities, and most supply chains only account for cartons of items, rather than the items themselves.

For example, cartons of T-Shirts with quantities of around 50 are commonly sent out, but without RFID accounting for individual products, you can’t know if the quantities are correct. In other words, you are guessing what should be there as you do not have the visibility to know what is there. This may result in a store believing they have less or more products than they actually do. If however, they do identify the mistake, without visibility over the supply chain there is no way of knowing where the error occurred.

RFID technology can make every step along the supply chain visible while also providing a meaningful context, using digital ‘touchpoints’ to track items throughout their journey. RFID Tunnel installations can even automatically process these cartons, to identify shortages and surpluses all without opening the box. This way large inbound and outbound shipments can be processed quickly, accurately and down to the item-level.

Traceability

“To be able to verify the history…”

If supply chain visibility allows us to know where items are right now, traceability means being able to look back at where they have come from. As items are tracked through the supply chain with RFID, a record of all read events is stored on the cloud. Not only this, but the data from the product journey can be combined with similar data from materials used in each product. This information means retailers can not only see the last locations and events of items but they can also:

  • Inspect their history (inception to sale)
  • Change layers of abstraction (e.g., from item to carton)
  • Go back to the source (materials sourced from cotton farms)

Having the ability to trace individual items back through the supply chain allows retailers to identify where shrinkage occurs and trace products back to the source in the case of a product recall. The traceability is also key as it involves keeping a permanent record of supply chain flow, not only does this mean valuable data, it also gives supply chain leaders the concrete evidence to hold suppliers accountable…

Detego Track and Trace Screenshot

Accountability

“To be responsible…”

With digital track and trace technology in place, retailers will have access to the all-important last known location of items.

This means it is possible to identify where errors occur and hold supply chain and retail partners accountable. On the other hand, it can also serve as proof of service.

This information is also invaluable when it comes to brand protection. Not only can RFID technology easily identify counterfeit products but using the last known location of products allows retailers to identify how legitimate products end up on the grey-market. This is achieved by tracing them back to their last known location in the supply chain.

Knowledge of when and where an item was last seen/did not show up also dramatically speeds up clarification and accountability processes.

These 3 building blocks allow the extraction of KPIs and models to:

  • Monitor shrinkage
  • Identify grey imports
  • Minimize counterfeits
  • Automate re-ordering via dwell times and throughput
  • Identify bottlenecks.

Looking to optimise your retail supply chain? The Detego platform is the end-to-end track and trace solution

Achieving complete supply chain transparency requires implementing an RFID system across your entire value chain, preserving detailed information about each RFID read event of each individual item (such as inbound verification, stocktake or sale). Thanks to that, knowing an item’s EPC (Electronic Product Code) number is enough to find out what, where and when happened to it. This capability is most useful when stores, distribution centres and factories are all integrated with one system – that system is Detego.

With efficient RFID processes from source-to-store, retailers not only gain new levels of accuracy and efficiency but achieve unprecedented transparency of the supply chain. Detego’s Global Track and Trace feature deliver the visibility, traceability and accountability to optimise retail supply chains for sustainable retail success.

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