RFID in Retail at a Glance
What is RFID?
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) uses radio waves to track and identify tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information and are counted or ‘read’ by either handheld or fixed RFID readers.
How is RFID used in Retail?
In many ways RFID is used in retail as an alternative to a barcode system (although it doesn’t have to replace barcodes entirely). The more advanced technology involved in RFID mean it has a far greater level of accuracy and efficiency when it comes to counting inventory. As a result of this it has far broader applications in retail, most of which are built of off the back of this reliable inventory visibility.
What is the financial benefit of RFID for retailers?
By implementing RFID retailers can on average increase their revenue from 5-15% depending on the business. This on top of a margin increase of up to 1% and 10-15% lower working capital due to optimised inventory levels.
How common is RFID in Retail?
According to research in 2018, 69% of retailers cite a significant level of adoption, and this number is continuing to rise.
The 6 Key Benefits of RFID in Retail
Due to the ease and accuracy of RFID stock counts, retailers using the technology can reliably achieve full item-level inventory visibility across their stores and supply chains. Crucially, due to the speed of RFID inventory counts, this can be achieved whilst actively reducing the labour intensity of operational processes. This accurate and up-to-the-minute inventory information is the backbone of so many of RFID’s uses in retail (including many of the points discussed below).
One crucial aspect of modern retail that relies on having accurate inventory visibility is Omnichannel retailing. With a complete and up-to-date view of stock across all channels, it is possible to open up the inventory of your entire store network to customers, providing a better customer experience and increasing sales.
Benefits of item-level inventory visibility
- Improved shipping accuracy
- Excellent baseline for advanced omnichannel retailing
- Produces more data for better insights
- Reduces inventory size (and therefore working capital) significantly
- Increased customer satisfaction from reduced out-of-stocks and a more connected experience
Increasing Product Availability
Ensuring a high product availability is vital to maintaining retail sales. Despite this, low on-floor product availability and out-of-stocks are an alarmingly common problem in the industry, causing unnecessary lost sales as a result of inefficient replenishment processes and stock inaccuracy. This latter cause is practically removed completely by RFID, with typical stock accuracy being increased to 99% from the standard 60-80%.
Additionally, RFID platforms provide an unbeatable basis for efficient and reliable replenishment processes. The main advantage these platforms have is the item-level and real-time inventory visibility gained from regular 99% accuracy stock counts.
How does RFID increase product availability?
- Makes regular cycle counts possible with efficient RFID stock reads
- Removes stock inaccuracy (from 70-80% to 99%)
- Creates complete item-level view of stock between both backroom and sales floor
- Item visibility makes replenishment easier and more accurate
- Real-time view allows for replenishment alerts for when items/sizes are running low
- Item-level data from RFID allows for advanced, even AI-assisted planograms for individual stores
Supply Chain Traceability
We’ve discussed the difference item-level visibility makes for stores, but when it comes to supply chains the benefits are just as great. With RFID, inbound and outbound reads become far easier, and are done on an individual item level rather than SKU (stock keeping unit). This means each item is accounted for at each step of the supply chain, rather than just shipments or boxes.
This level of stock visibility also drastically reduces the rate of shipping errors or picking mistakes as they are detected by RFID readers and corrected by warehouse staff during exception handling or outbound reads.
Additionally, the location or status of items and shipments are visible in real-time, so stores and DC’s can easily track shipments and know exactly what they will be receiving. This makes any individual item fully traceable, as time and dates of when the item passed each read point in the supply process can be stored.
Benefits of RFID in the supply chain:
- Item-level visibility across entire supply chain
- Trace items against individual shipments
- Smoother operational processes
- Track shipments for delivery
- 100% inbound and outbound shipping accuracy
Increasing Process Efficiency
The difference in process efficiency from using RFID in retail is extensive, at every end of retail, be it the factory or the shop floor. An RFID reader, regardless of whether its fixed or a handheld, can read hundreds of individual items at once. Crucially though, as each item has a unique ID, they can never be read more than once. The signals also do not require line of sight to be read.
Naturally, this makes RFID inventory counts and inbound/outbound checks incredibly fast and reliable. In the case of store inventories, RFID has been found to reduce cycle count times by a staggering 96%. This therefore means they are far more convenient to perform and can be done multiple times in a week rather than a year.
Processes transformed by RFID:
- Cycle counts/inventories
- Fast & Efficient Inbound & Outbound reads
- RFID-enabled picking and packing
- Mobile guided replenishment from backroom to salesfloor
Providing Real-Time Data
Analytics and data is one area that e-commerce is ahead of physical retail. This is largely due to the fact that everything online can be measured, whereas retailers don’t really know what’s happening with their stores and customers in any specific detail, and the stats and data they do collect are often historical and at risk of being outdated.
However, with RFID this can all change. The simplest and most effective use of the data allows retailers to better leverage their greatest assets; their products and their stores. Quality data and analytics can allow retailers to ensure merchandise is in the right place to be sold. Information on which stores are performing better or worse is a basic retail KPI, but with specific item data, RFID produces far more detailed insights. This includes how well individual items are doing in specific stores, right down to specifics such as which sizes of items are selling better where. Insights such as these are naturally actionable, meaning retailers can take steps to move or reinforce stock at specific stores.
Data insights and results possible with RFID:
- KPI based performance tracking
- Detailed merchandise data & Analytics
- Operational excellence
- Actionable recommendations
- Compliance tracking
- Eliminates reliance on historical data
- Predictive capabilities for inventory counts and merchandise management
Transforming Customer Experience
There are many effects of RFID in retail that go beyond simple operational benefits to actively improve the customer experience. At the most basic level, this includes things already mentioned like increasing product availability, offering convenient omnichannel services and freeing up store associates to spend more time assisting customers.
However, because of the real-time inventory visibility it provides, RFID can go way beyond this in terms of improving the customer experience. For example, with reliable and up-to-the-minute stock information stores can utilise technologies like chatbots or smart fitting rooms to assist customers with their queries, supply information about other items or sizes available and even cross-sell to customers in the store.
What ways does RFID improve the customer experience?
- High product availability
- Store associates have more time for their customers
- Convenient omnichannel services
- A connected experience between online and offline
- AI-powered chatbots delivering assistance and product information via mobile.
- Smart fitting rooms providing a hugely improved fitting room experience.
- RFID-enabled Point of Sale – including self-checkout services
Detailed analysis by retail tech specialists at Detego has confirmed that the average retailer’s data is only about seventy-five percent accurate when it comes to knowing exactly what inventory is actually in stock at any particular time. The problem is often compounded by retailers continually managing stock across multiple channels and increasingly having to stay on top of consumer demands for up-to-the-minute, reliable information. Detego, which has been monitoring its own chatbot service that allows consumers to engage with retailers via their smartphones, found the most common enquiries to be about stock availability. It found data inaccuracies around inventory to be most of an issue in fashion retail where ever shorter product lifecycles, fast turnarounds of stock and multiple style, size and colour combinations can play havoc with the supply chain and in-store operations.
“Customers, above all, want instant and accurate information on product availability,” says Dr. Michael Goller, CTO at Detego. “If you’re shopping for clothes, you want to be sure of getting the exact size and style you’re looking for. But many retailers fall by the wayside here – their systems might tell them that a particular size is available; yet, there’s a one in four chance that this isn’t the case.”
According to Goller, continually relying on manual processes for something as vital to the retail business as stock – usually by shutting up shop once or twice a year for store or warehouse staff to do a stock-take – is madness. And especially given that smart technologies abound, including RFID and mobile devices which ensure continual monitoring and lead to near hundred percent accuracy and operational excellence in the stores.
Research by the University of Parma in Italy has shown consistent sales increases in RFID-managed apparel stores and deduced that “RFID item-level tagging is a powerful tool for improving inventory accuracy, which is a prerequisite for both omni-channel strategies and store floor replenishment from the backroom.”1
Thanks to technology that helps increase the availability of products on the shopfloor – such as using wearable devices that rely on alerts and images to guide staff and speed up the replacement of missing articles and gaps on the shelves – the industry is starting to see a gradual shift towards more connected technologies in retail. IDC Retail Insights predicts that eighty percent of retailers are due to spend on visibility platforms powered by RFID and IoT2 over the next few years.