Online returns have been a challenge for retailers since the beginning of eCommerce. This is because of both their volume compared to normal stores, and the costs associated with processing them. In the wake of COVID-19, this problem could prove more critical then ever, as online becomes retailers’ singular sales channel. There is already early evidence of this, with preliminary data from Quantum Metric showing that eCommerce associated with Brick and Mortar retailers saw an average revenue weekly growth rate increase of 52%, and Nike Inc.’s digital sales went up by 36%.

The eCommerce returns dilemma

Online shopping is popular for a reason, but the convenience and choice of eCommerce comes at the price of not being able to ‘try before you buy’ for customers.

This simple difference is the reason online returns are so much more prevalent than for Brick and Mortar stores. In eCommerce the customers’ homes becomes the fitting room. And, just like any fitting room, products end up back on the shelves. According to Happy Returns, while shoppers return only 10% of what they buy in stores, they send back up to 50% of what they buy online.

This is compounded by customers accounting for this when ordering online. A survey from Barclays found that 30% of shoppers deliberately over-purchase and subsequently return unwanted items. Additionally, 20% regularly order multiple versions (often sizes) of the same item so they could make their mind up when they are delivered, all of which is facilitated by the retailer at great cost.

While it might seem logical to have stricter returns policies, or make customers cover the cost of returns, consumer expectations make this a risky strategy. According to the 2017 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, 68% of shoppers view returns policies before making a purchase. This leaves retailers with a catch-22 situation when it comes to losing out on online sales or losing profits from processing the inevitable returns that comes with those sales.

Retail returns by product type

What are the challenges of retail returns?

So why are returns such a strain on retailers?

Cost of returns First and foremost is the simple cost of returns. Since returns are in themselves essentially lost sales, the added cost of returning them, which according to CNBC is on average 30% of the purchase price, can heavily impact retailer’s margins.

Processing returns and reverse logisticsOn top of this is the resources and effort of processing returns and getting the stock back available to be sold as quickly as possible. This reverse logistics can be particularly challenging and can result in returned stock not being available for purchase again for some time, often leading to out-of-stocks on the webshop. According to the Barclays report, 57% of retailers say that dealing with returns has a negative impact on the day-to-day running of their business.

Contamination concerns with COVID-19? – A unique and recent challenge, particularly for apparel retailers, is dealing with the potential contamination and contact of returned good with the COVID-19 virus. Initial research suggests that the virus can only survive on fabric surfaces for 24 hours, but for up to 72 on plastics like packaging. This will need to be addressed by eCommerce retailers who continue trading throughout the epidemic.

Return fraudThis is a challenge shared by brick-and-mortar stores. Fraudulent returns cost the US alone 27 billion dollars a year. This can involve the ‘returning’ of stolen merchandise for cash, stealing receipts to enable a false return or using someone else’s receipt to return unpurchased store stock. Naturally, using receipts for returns presents a risk, APPRISS found that receipted returns are more than twice as likely to be fraudulent as other methods.

Summary of retail returns fraud US

How to reduce the impact of returns on eCommerce

So what options are there for retailers looking to tackle their returns problems?

  1. Reduce the likelihood of returns, without harming customer experience or sales: Include accurate and detailed product descriptions. Use uniformed/standard sizes where possible and provide a more specific sizing filter. Offer virtual ‘try-ons’ with augmented reality/3D imaging.
  2. Set clear and accessible rules regarding returns: Make sure customers know what and how they are allowed to return items, this reduces spending resources processing illegitimate returns.
  3. Improve visibility: Maintain a single view of stock with item-level inbound and outbound processes, this will also allow for online returns back to stores, and ship-from-store. Make this visibility accessible to your entire team and your customers.
  4. Improve efficiency of inbound and outbound processes: Utilise reliable & efficient technologies and automated processes like exception handling. One of the leading technologies for this is RFID, which prevents the need to open any boxes or packages as it can count and verify items without direct line of sight.
  5. Improve internal processes: Ensure returns processes (and supporting software) enables additional layers of merchandise management such as grading items based on quality and tracking when the item was returned.
  6. Counter Return Fraud: Verify legitimacy of returns as much as possible, best practise involves unique item-level validation like RFID or unique serial numbers.
  7. Ensure returned stock is safe to sell: Implement processes to ensure returns are not damaged in any way, implement a policy to account for safe handling of merchandise during theCovid-19 pandemic, either sanitising products or leaving them a set amount of time before adding back into webshop stock.

Using RFID tagging and looking to improve return processes?

NEW: eCommerce returns module

eCommerce/ DTC is increasing due to COVID-19. This causes an over proportional increase in returns which normally would require a ramp up of staff and equipment to handle the process – Detego’s new RFID enabled return process provides an approx 90% productivity increase.

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The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
How will retail cope with the impact of coronavirus and how might it look different in the future because of it?
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Current Impact of COVID-19 on Retail

Supply Chain Chaos

Retail manufacturing and production have been heavily disrupted by COVID-19, particularly in China. In apparel and textiles, China is still the world’s biggest exporter. Even apparel manufacturers based elsewhere are often reliant on textiles imported from China. China being hit by COVID-19 and having to shut down factories and production has caused huge supply chain and production disruption around the world, with luxury retailers like Burberry and Prada being hit particularly hard.

As more and more countries are affected, supply chains may be disrupted further downstream. Larger distribution centres that service multiple countries could be most problematic, not only for fears of contamination but stores in countries that aren’t as heavily affected could have their product supply disrupted. On the other hand, since China was affected by the pandemic first they may recover first, so by the time other countries are beginning to come out of lockdown and preventative measures, this supply bottleneck may well be clearing further upstream.

Shutting of physical stores & reduced footfall

Across the globe  brick and mortar sales are suffering. Stores are either being closed on government orders or simply being closed by the retailer to protect staff and public. The stores that remain open are being hit by the heavily reduced footfall as the majority of the public attempt to avoid unnecessary social contact.

The effects of this on revenue have the potential to be fatal. Lost sales are damaging enough, but when you factor in continued overheads for stores like rent, wages and inventory, it is a dangerous situation. Only time will tell how damaging these effects will be on retailers across the globes, with the main variables being:

  • How long areas remain affected & stores are closed for.
  • To what extent a retailer’s eCommerce operation can pick up the slack (more on this below)
  • How big or financially stable the retailer is prior to the epidemic – large tier 1 & 2 retailers may be able to shoulder the burden for longer than their smaller or independent counterparts.

Spike in Online Sales

With many stores closing and consumers avoiding most of the ones that remain, it’s no surprise there has been a spike in online shopping due to COVID-19. This is exemplified by the eCommerce kings Amazon who are taking on 100,000 extra staff across the US as it tries to keep up with a surge in orders sparked by the pandemic.

Whilst its good for both the retailer and the consumer that most brands now operate both on and offline, the sudden shift in proportion between online and offline sales may cause retailers problems if they struggle to keep up with demand. These issues include fulfilment centres not coping with increased demand and the amount of returns that come alongside online orders. 

 The other major consideration for many retailers is the typically smaller margins on eCommerce orders compared to brick and mortar sales, meaning that they may not be able to rely on their eCommerce branch to survive for too long.

Future Considerations

So, what might a post-COVID-19 retail landscape look like? Will retailers take lessons from the crisis and bolster their infrastructure so they are more prepared for similar events in the future? Or once the dust settles will this be counted as a freak event and forgotten about? Here are possible considerations for retail life after COVID-19.

Continued advancement of e-commerce

This was bound to happen even without the pandemic, but COVID-19 may just have accelerated, or at the very least highlighted, the growth of online shopping and its advantages over physical retail. It is likely that retailers with a strong eCommerce offering will come out of the slump in a much better position. 

For multi-channel retailers who had to rely on their online sales more than ever during COVID-19, evaluation into their eCommerce operations, particularly at their efficiency and smaller margins, are very likely. This may take the form of bolstering their supply chain technology and distribution centres, to increase efficiency and reduce running costs to see better margins in the future.

Diversifying manufacturing facilities

Steps have been gradually made in this area even before COVID-19, but in the aftermath of the pandemic, this may be a real concern for retailers and manufacturers. The problem isn’t China, or anywhere in particular. The problem is having such a heavy reliance on a single market, which then becomes a single point of failure for the business. Profit margins will always be a priority, but more cautious retailers and manufactures may look to diversify their production operations to be less reliant on a single region in the future.

Source-to-consumer traceability in supply chains

This is another area that was already a growing priority for many retailers. In the aftermath of COVID-19, it is likely to be even more of a concern, for both retailers and consumers. Not only does traceability help create smoother operations in the supply process, but it can offer assurances to consumers who may have growing concerns about where their products are sourced. With item-level traceability being where the industry is headed, consumers will be able to judge for themselves that their food, clothing and other things they bring into their homes is safely made and transported.

Automated warehouses and supply chains

The other element of the retail supply chain and distribution process that may change in the future is a heavier reliance on automation. This will make supply chains and distribution centres more robust, so able to withstand increased pressure. Automating processes like exception handling also means DC’s can run faster and with a leaner workforce.

Why may retailers look at automating supply chain operations in the future?

  •       More efficient – can deal with larger quantities of goods
  •       More accurate can deal with larger demand without creating bottlenecks
  •       Takes the reliance away from human resource constraints

Self-service stores and cashierless checkout 

Finally, could the coronavirus be a catalyst for increased investment in self-service technology like cashier-less stores? We’ve seen retail giants like Amazon and Sainsbury’s explore these initiatives, but they have yet to be adopted on a large scale. Could that change? It may feel like a knee-jerk reaction to invest in technology that supports reduced human interaction but, particularly for supermarkets, solutions like Marks and Spencers’ mobile scan & pay could alleviate pressurised checkout lines.

Conclusion

We’ve gone over the major concerns for retail, the possible impact they could have, and the potential knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the retail industry. But the fact is no one really knows. We are in uncharted waters, and for now, retailers are just struggling to ride the wave to the other side.

What we do know is this will pass. The main question for retailers that will determine the severity of the pandemic’s impact is when. Whilst this isn’t the second ‘retail apocalypse’, it is more than likely that the retail landscape that comes out of the coronavirus crisis may be very different from the one that went into it.

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The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
RFID is finally taking off in retail. But how should retailers approach implementing the technology at scale? We break down our 6-step best-practise for effective retail transformation with RFID.

When it comes to digital transformation, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) has been the hype in retail for several years now. It has, however, been a bumpy road to success. In the past, stories of failed implementations and botched rollouts were far too common and kept many retailers from taking the plunge. Thankfully these days the picture is much more encouraging. We are now spoilt for case studies and examples of retailers having enormous success with the technology to digitise their inventory and processes for the modern retail environment.

 

So, what makes the difference between failure and success?

Ultimately it comes down to a combination of knowledge, technology and price. Improvements in all three of these areas have evolved the technology into a vital component of any digital transformation journey in retail. But as with any transformative project, getting the detail right is vital. The approach to implementation and suppliers you choose to engage with will have big implications on ROI.

A best-practise approach is easier said than done, so you need to surround yourself with a team of experts who have skin in the game and ensure the solution you choose to implement has the capabilities to lead your digital transformation for years to come.

Technology Venn Diagram

Our recommended 6 steps to digital transformation with RFID:

 1.   Understand the problems you want to solve and clearly define the KPIs

The first step in any new tech investment is to be sure that you have clarity around what problems you are hoping to solve. This will often require some hard-hitting questions and honest auditing of current processes and data to understand where you and your customer’s biggest pain points are. Customer feedback surveys are always a good way to gain insight into this.

 

What common retail problems can RFID solve?

  • Stock inaccuracy leading to out-of-stock situations
  • Poor product availability on salesfloors and webshop resulting in lost sales
  • Labour costs and operational inefficiencies
  • Reduction in excess/safety stock
  • Inventory visibility and supply chain traceability

Luckily, these problems all have clear KPIs related to them and can be used as a great measurement tool to understand your current position and build a business case for the investment.

2.   Choose a software partner that will help you achieve more

Once you have clearly defined RFID as the technology you want to implement, it is then vital to choose the right partners to go on your digital transformation journey with. Within the RFID market, there are generally three partner types – hardware, labels and software. The software component is the most important aspect as this must be able to process all the data, integrate with existing systems and empower employees with user-friendly applications to improve daily processes. Choosing the best-suited partners will make all the difference to ensuring you have a scalable and future proof solution for the next 5+ years.

 

What to look for in an RFID software partner?

  • Credibility in the market – do they have proven RFID deployments with reputable brands in your sector?
  • Future-proofed services – do they have a product roadmap that inspires innovation and constant improvement?
  • Scalability and flexibility – does the solution fit your business needs and implementation roadmap?
  • Industry expertise – do they have deep industry knowledge to understand your specific business requirements and help you think through these challenges?
RFID Implementation Ecosystem Diagram

3.   Trial the solution, prove the business case

Any digital transformation project requires buy-in from multiple departments and key decision-makers. The best way to achieve this is to prove the business case in a live retail environment. This is done through a ‘Pilot’ process whereby the solution is tested in around 3-5 live stores, allowing for the critical KPIs to be assessed and to gain a clearer understanding of the implications for store processes. With SaaS-enabled solutions, this process can be done more efficiently through the use of cloud-hosted mobile solutions, essentially making them ‘plug & play’.

 

What does the pilot process involve?

  1. Tagging party of all items in Pilot stores with RFID labels

  2. Product Master Data uploaded to SFTP (or FTP)

  3. Training of store associates

  4. Use of handheld readers and mobile app to perform daily store operations

  5. Daily KPI tracking to analyse results:

    • Improvement in stock accuracy
    • Improvement in on-floor availability
    • Increase in sales
Detego RFID Software Dashboard

4.   Store rollout with speed for immediate ROI

Although it seems attractive to enable all of the features and RFID-enabled services in one go, and undergo a digital transformation overnight, the reality is often different. Instead, retailers should approach implementation in phases to manage the changes in process and IT requirements. A best-practice approach to RFID implementation should focus on improving the fundamental processes that will bring the most immediate ROI to the business. These processes include stocktakes and replenishment to significantly increase stock accuracy and on-floor availability within stores. Improving these two KPI’s generally results in a direct sales uplift of 5-10%. From there, you can re-invest returns back into the continuous enablement of RFID throughout your business.

 

What elements are most critical to a successful store rollout?

 

  • Speed and ease of implementation

    • New innovations such as Smart Shielding removes the need for physical shielding installations – saving time and money.
    • SaaS-enabled platforms allow for scalable pricing models and cloud-hosted solutions.
    • Open APIs allow for easy system integration with ERP

 

  • Support services

    • Training to educate staff on the changes in daily processes
    • Customer success and support to maximise the use of the software

 

  • Change management leadership

    • Ensuring you have a dedicated team to oversee the rollout

5.   Full omnichannel enablement

After securing the foundations of stock accuracy and on-floor availability in stores, the next step is to connect the online and offline business. Omnichannel services such as click & collect (aka BOPIS) and Ship-From-Store are expected in the modern retail environment as consumers demand to shop anywhere, anytime and any way they want. However, it’s important to ensure you can deliver on these retail experiences so that customers don’t end up disappointed. Enabling this requires connecting inventory from your store networks with your distribution centres and webshop to create a single and transparent view of stock.

 

 What’s required for Omnichannel retailing?

  • Transparent view of stock across all stores made available to the online store
  • Automate warehouse processes with RFID tunnel and outbound processes
  • Offer new services such as click & collect, ship-from-store etc.
Single stock view

6.   Unlock the true power of RFID with new retail experiences

 

Stock accuracy, product availability and omnichannel services are synonymous with RFID in retail and should always be the focus of any digital transformation utilising the technology. However, there is also an unlimited amount of untapped data and potential that is a sitting gold mine once you have RFID implemented throughout the supply chain. New solutions for consumer engagement and artificial intelligence engines can now be utilised to provide new services, experiences and insights for retailers and consumers alike.

 

What new innovations can be enabled?

Interested in discussing your RFID Journey? Talk to the experts.

At Detego we know retail and we know RFID. This combination has enabled us to develop the most innovative RFID software solutions on the market, alongside major global fashion brands. With RFID now on almost every retailer’s roadmap, we have the answers for any step of the journey, anywhere within your operations.

Everyone has to start somewhere, which is why we have out-of-the-box solutions to quick-start your RFID journey. Alternatively, if RFID is well and truly ingrained in your business, then talk to Detego about how we are using AI and innovative new practices to take real-time decision making to the next level.

Digital store journey

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The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Money Mapping is a Visual Merchandising data goldmine, we explore how it works, and how artificial intelligence is making Money Mapping more accessible for retailers.

Visual Merchandising’s Data Problem  

 

Visual merchandising is one of the ‘dark arts’ of retail. For the uninitiated, it’s the practice of designing visually appealing sales floors and store fixtures that attract customers and ultimately sell the products on display. It’s a subjective and artistic means of delivering a concrete KPI – sales.

One of the challenges of visual merchandising is data, experimentation & design is all well and good, but not if you have no way of knowing what does and doesn’t work. Sales data is always a good place to start, but there are so many other factors at play that it’s often unwise to attribute visual merchandising to an increase or decrease of sales to a single product. You have to go one step further…

Survey: How does your organisation measure in-store execution and compliance?

What is Money Mapping? 

 

So, how do you measure the sales performance of a store based on its layout and design? 

First, you map out the sales floor with the exact location of products. Then you break the map of the store into ‘zones’, typically around certain fixtures, shelves and displays. These zones can consist of several different items, grouped by either category or style depending on the design of the store. 

You then collate the sales of every item in this zone and compare it to others in the same store. The result? An impression of shop floor sales broken down by areas of the store.  

This is called ‘Money Mapping’ and allows retailers to visualise and analyse which areas of a store are ‘hotspots’ and which are ‘cold’ in terms of sales. This gives an initial view of which areas and fixtures are selling products and which aren’t.

To account for other external influences on sales, best practise is to swap items between fixtures or observe a ‘money map’ over a long time, as collections and merchandise changes between seasons. This way, if the localised sales data remains relatively similar even after products have rotated, then it’s clear the design or locations of the fixture is having an impact.

Money Mapping Infographic

What are the benefits of Money Mapping?

  • Insight on consumer experience
  • Provides valuable data for visual merchandisers
  • Breaks down areas of sales floor by sales performance
  • Can be used to optimise store layout
  • Drives Sales
  • Can compare Product Placement & Visual Merchandising
  • Can be used to conduct A/B tests

This all sounds great, so why doesn’t every retailer and every store do this already? The simple answer – the process of matching the sales data to specific locations on the sales floor, manually for every item and every store, is logistically a big ask. This means, if this can be done at all by visual merchandisers, it can only be done in a small number of stores.

How does AI change money mapping?

 

So how can we solve this data problem for visual merchandisers and make ‘Money Mapping’ easier and more accessible for retailers?

The first issue is having an accurate map of a store which includes exactly where every single item is sold from. Traditionally this would have to be done manually, and then have the sales data of items cross-referenced with their location in a store.

The solution: Using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and AI localisation techniques, we can now create a map of a store as part of the daily or weekly stock count.

This is done by adding ‘reference’ RFID tags into the store. Small tags just like ones that go on products are placed on fixtures and walls in the store. Because these never move, we can use the signal strength (relative to the fixtures) from stock counts to map exactly where items are in the store and what items they are grouped with.

This location info is then integrated with data from point of sale to generate an automated Money Map of a store, as part of the regular reporting and analytics function of the store. This can be done for as many stores as desired. With the data collection automated, visual merchandisers can focus on using the data to optimise product placement and store design across stores.

With larger data sets to work with, this also opens up the potential for more detailed analysis and experimentation such as A/B testing product combinations and store layouts!

 

What’s the process for AI Money Mapping?

  • Attach reference RFID tags to walls and fixtures within the store
  • Perform regular RFID stock takes as normal
  • Software uses machine learning to ‘map’ out item locations within the store
  • Integrate point of sale data with RFID software
  • Software produces ‘heat map’ of the store based on sales
  • Visual merchandisers can use data to inform strategy and measure results
Retail Money Mapping

Conclusion

Visual merchandising is a subtle but valuable process for retailers. Done properly it has a huge impact on both sales, customer experience and brand image. The only problem with this is visual merchandisers often don’t have enough data to measure performance and identify where their attention is needed most. The data they can collect is either time consuming, expensive or inaccurate.

Artificial intelligence changes the game for visual merchandising. By utilising RFID tags and Machine Learning, it is possible to ‘map out’ the location of items in a store, and more importantly, the sales distribution of the shop floor. These ‘Money Maps’ tell visual merchandisers what areas of the sales floor are ‘hotspots’ for sales and which are underperforming. Using this data, they can then focus their attention on improving the design or layout of certain areas.

Additionally, with this data stores can look to leverage their sales hotspots either by prioritising the best locations for best-sellers, high-value items or items that are due to go out of season.

Either way, AI-enabled Money Mapping is another important evolution in retail data and analytics. Providing retailers with unprecedented insight into exactly what goes on in Brick and Mortar Stores.

Want the latest retail and retail tech insights directly to your inbox?

The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Smart Fitting Rooms are finally live in the retail market. So what exactly are they, what do they do, and what kind of value do they add to retail business?

What is a Smart Fitting Room?

Smart fitting rooms consist of an interactive touch-screen mirror connected to an RFID reader and a motion sensor. They sense when customers enter the fitting room, and sense what items they have brought in with them by reading their RFID tags. They then assist the customer throughout the fitting room process, giving them information on products and calling for assistance if required. In simple terms, they allow consumers to experience the same benefits they get from online shopping whilst in the fitting room, as well as let them request items be brought directly to them.

 

What does a Smart fitting room do?

  • Detect movement and presence of a customer
  • Identifies which item the customer brings to try on
  • Displays additional product information
  • Provides availability information to the consumer
  • Shows product recommendations that would complement the currently selected style
  • Provides additional services such as Call for Assistance or Call for different products / colors / sizes

 

Smart fitting rooms have existed in the fringes of the retail technology space for a number of years. The interactive mirrors certainly capture the imagination, but they’ve only really existed at trade shows and in concept stores rather than out in the wild. It’s fair to say the technology was in the category of interesting and fun but not really taken seriously. Fast forward to 2020, and we have just seen the first major commercial use of smart fitting rooms, in a truly digital, experience-first, award-winning store.

 

What makes up a Smart Fitting Room? 

 

So, now is the time to start paying attention to Smart Fitting Rooms. But for those looking at the technology, either for the first time or with fresh interest now that solutions are live in the market, the business case might be a concern. In this article, we will break down exactly what a smart fitting can do, and what kind of value they offer for retailers, customers and retail profits.

What are the business benefits of Smart Fitting Rooms?

Improving Customer Experience

As a customer-facing technology, we’ll start with the most obvious (yet qualitative) use of the smart fitting room – an improved customer experience.

Rather than taking this for granted, however, let’s dig into how, why and even if smart fitting rooms offer a better experience for customers. Having a mirror automatically detect and display item information is nice and will wow customers (at least to begin with) but doesn’t really add much more value than an interactive screen that can scan products barcodes or even a product QR code.

What sets smart fitting rooms apart from these solutions are the interactive options and how they support customers. This includes offering additional and related or ‘frequently bought together’ items, information on exactly what is available in the store (using the real-time stock view RFID provides) as well as being able to request items be brought directly to the fitting room. These options being built directly into the mirror that customers already use will both delight customers and make the fitting room experience more convenient.

 

How smart fitting rooms benefit the customer:

  • Shows different product combinations
  • Makes product recommendations
  • Article availability check
  • Shows full range of articles to browse through
  • Additional information, videos, social media integration
  • Customer-friendly fitting (Article-Bring-Service)
  • Enables digitally supported purchase decisions
  • Direct reservation or ordering of articles
  • Different delivery options (delivery to home address, from another store, etc.)

 

The economic value of customer experience:

The economic value of customer experience

Increase Sales

‘Customer experience is king’ has been a favourite tagline of innovative retail for some time. While it’s probably true and certainly sounds good, when it comes to the business case of new technologies you really do need to look at revenue. In terms of the customer, that generally means sales. So, what effect do smart fitting rooms have on sales? Other than more tenuous effects like bringing more customers in to the store, Smart fitting rooms increase retail sales in two ways:

Combating Lost Sales

Fitting room conversions is a self-explanatory if unfamiliar term for brick and mortar stores. That’s because as a KPI retailers have never had any way to measure or track this (more on this later). But fitting rooms are absolutely pivotal to apparel sales.

According to The Retail Doctor, shoppers who use dressing rooms are 70% more likely to buy versus those who don’t. It’s easy to see why, as customers have already decided that they like the item and want to purchase it, so fitting rooms become a question of making sure, and finding the right size.

It’s finding the correct size where most fitting rooms sales are lost. If a customer needs a different size, they will have to leave the fitting room and come back. Studies prove that this can have a major impact on sales, as 50% and 21% of people say they will sometimes and every time respectively leave the fitting room and the store if they were looking for assistance to change colour or size of an item and can’t find anyone.

This is why helpful fitting rooms assistants have such a big impact on sales, customers who receive assistance in fitting rooms make twice as many purchases as those who don’t. Smart fitting rooms address this issue, showing customers what other sizes are available and letting them request different sizes be brought directly to them. This allows stores to have assistance on hand (they are notified via a mobile application) without needing a permanent fitting rooms assistant, which is not feasible for many stores.

 

Increasing basket size with in-store cross-selling

The other sales driver of smart fitting rooms is having product recommendations made based on the items brought into the fitting room. This brings cross-selling common in e-commerce to the brick and mortar experience. Whilst these can be done as an endless aisle (so the entire product range of a store) the better way is to only offer items that are available in the store (using the stock visibility RFID provides). Much like requesting additional sizes, customers can request to have items that catch their eye brought directly to them. This can drive sales significantly and has been seen to increase fitting rooms basket size by 100% in initial studies.

Smart Fitting Room Gif

New Data and Insights For Stores

The lesser-known use case of smart fitting rooms is the data and insight provided about the customer experience. It’s often said that compared to e-commerce, retailers have next to no data about what actually happens inside their stores. Other than what gets sold, they’re blind. In an industry as competitive and fast-moving as retail, this lack of analytics can be fatal.

We’ve already established how important fitting rooms are to apparel sales, so it seems that collecting and analysing data from them is a no-brainer. Traditionally however this hasn’t been the case, but with RFID and smart fitting rooms, retailers can collect that data in a non-invasive way.

 

What kind of insights are provided by smart fitting rooms? 

  • Item Conversion rate – How often are items selling (or not selling) immediately after being tried on in a fitting room?
  • Fitting baskets vs shopping baskets – Most tried on vs most sold
  • Number of items per session
  • Session duration
  • Recommendation conversion rate – How often are items recommended, requested and then sold?
  • Need assistance use – How often are staff called to the fitting room using the mirror?
  • Staff response time – How long does it take for store staff to react to customer requests? (gaining actionable insight to customer experience)

Conclusion

Consider the context of interactive displays, AR, VR and even RFID tables. Smart fitting rooms are both a part of this space and completely apart from it. This is because fitting rooms aren’t new, they are and always will be a part of the apparel shopping experience. Rather than adding a new element to the shopping experience like VR for example, smart fitting rooms are improving an integral (and for many, unpleasant) part of the customer experience.

In other words – it’s an evolution, not a revolution.

Whether retailers embrace this evolution will be decided in the coming years, now that smart fitting rooms are finally out in the wild. Perhaps even more crucially, especially when talking about business case, now smart fitting rooms are out in the market we will begin to see data and results that will prove the value once and for all. As early innovators of the technology, we can’t wait.

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The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
A look at the food industry's key challenges and if (and how) RFID can solve them.

Summary of Reiss and Detego’s UK project

 

Luxury high-street brand, Reiss, has been operating in the UK for almost 50 years with 160 stores globally. Their reputation for quality and service is what sets them apart, and they recognised that in the modern environment, serving their customers to the highest possible standard requires strong digital foundations.

To achieve this, Reiss has initially implemented the Detego platform across its 50 UK stores. Digitising their view of stock as well as increasing their stock accuracy across all stores were priorities, as these would provide an important baseline for future projects as well as allowing them to continue to serve their customers with a high level of service.

The rollout was completed in 8 months and has since seen results of 99% stock accuracy in stores and a consequent 4% uplift in sales.

 

The Challenge:

Responding to shifting customer expectations, Reiss looked to begin a ‘digital transformation’ of their inventory to secure stock accuracy, efficiency and stock visibility for their growing omnichannel portfolio.

The Solution:

Reiss began RFID tagging individual products at source, giving every item a unique digital ID that is readable via radio waves from several feet away. They then implemented Detego’s cloud-hosted inventory management software across their store network to digitise store processes with fast and efficient RFID methods. This meant they could perform accurate, daily stocktakes of their stores, rather than doing a just a few each year.

The Result:

Reiss saw their stock accuracy increase to 99% in their stores with a 4% sales uplift as a direct result of this. Additionally, they now have a complete and accurate digital view of stock across their store network. Not only does this mean Reiss staff know exactly what is in their stores at all times, but it is a solid foundation for future expansion into the digital arena.

4% Increase in Sales

99% Stock accuracy

Reiss store

The Steps to RFID success

Best Practise Implementation

Detego worked alongside Reiss to understand their business goals and implement a phased approach to the use of RFID. An initial pilot project involving 5 stores allowed Reiss to understand the implications on process change whilst proving the business case to their stakeholders. Following that, an efficient rollout of the remaining UK stores was enabled by our professional services team and cloud-hosted solution. Reiss chose to focus on the fundamentals of stock accuracy and product availability for their customers first. This allows them to set the foundations for new services and feature additions following the success of this initial implementation.

Transforming stock takes

With the application live in stores, Reiss staff now perform stock takes daily, rather than a handful of times a year. This can be done due to the speed and ease of a Detego stocktake. Because RFID reads can be done without direct line of sight and at a distance of several feet, Reiss staff can do a cycle count of their entire stores in around 30 minutes. Naturally, daily stock takes will drive accuracy but the fact that the Detego stocktake removes human error and is displayed on a user-friendly mobile app means Reiss achieve near-perfect levels of inventory accuracy.

‘The use of the Detego app has really improved our daily processes. Having a stock take every day as opposed to only twice a year really streamlines the accuracy of our stock file and the replenishment process.’

Giorgio Leone-Mazza, Reiss Store Manager

Stock accuracy

As a result of implementing the Detego platform, Reiss now have on average 98% inventory accuracy in their stores. This has a huge impact on Reiss and their customers. Reiss stores’ backroom inventories are very lean and they replenish directly from their central DC. Having an accurate view of stock is crucial in such a system, as inaccuracies mean incorrect replenishment which in turn creates out-of-stocks and unsatisfied customers. With accuracy close to a 100%, Reiss can be confident that their merchandise is leveraged with total precision.

With very few inaccuracies, customers are rarely disappointed by items being unavailable and they can continue to serve their clientele with the same level of service that they’ve been renowned for almost 50 years.

Reiss’ merchandise itself is their second most valuable asset, behind only their customers, so it is important to leverage it as effectively as possible. Having an accurate view of stock is the only place to start this and ensures that they can prevent end-of-season markdowns as a result of ‘losing’ stock for a season due to inaccuracy.

‘We scan every day, giving us the accuracy of the exact stock we have in the store, in roughly 35 minutes’

Manisha Hassan, Reiss Store Manager

The road to Omnichannel

One of Reiss’ main long-term goals for their technology investments was to offer a top-class omnichannel experience, opening up more inventory for their customers to choose from and utilising their stores as miniature distribution centres. Having a highly accurate view of stock is a non-negotiable requirement to offering good omnichannel services, inaccurate stock means inaccurate omnichannel. With an accuracy of near 99%, Reiss will be able to deliver services like click and collect and ship-from-store with confidence.

Reiss’ merchandise itself is their second most valuable asset, behind only their customers, so it is important to leverage it as effectively as possible. Having an accurate view of stock is the only place to start this and ensures that they can prevent end-of-season markdowns as a result of ‘losing’ stock for a season due to inaccuracy.

‘The RFID project at Reiss has focussed on simplicity, driving accuracy very early in the cycle, using software as the base level.’

Martin Schofield, CEO of Retail 247

Reiss RFID with Detego

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Artificial intelligence, the future of smart retail or another empty buzzword?

Artificial intelligence is the poster child for emerging or ‘new age’ smart technologies. Whilst it’s easy to get carried away with ideas of intelligent robots, AI mostly involves intelligent automation systems. This means computer systems that can process and respond to information by themselves, and even learn and self-correct better ways of doing so over time. AI is a broad spectrum, however, and the complexity and ‘intelligence’ of such systems can vary.

AI’s main use for retailers is to automate analysis and decision making

Because AI is still in relative infancy for retail, a large proportion of its use cases for the industry are still being developed and established. We have already seen a strong uptake in AI for customer intelligence in the form of online chatbots and product recommendation engines.

AI uses cases for retail

The other areas of potential, namely optimisation of business processes like supply chain planning, demand prediction and store operations, are beginning to take shape but all share a common problem – they need large amounts of data. This has been the main thing holding AI back in certain areas of the retail value chain, but by utilising another technology becoming increasingly common in the industry, this could all change…

RFID in retail, the story so far:

If the ‘AI revolution’ hasn’t really taken off yet, the RFID one is well underway. RFID is used in retail to track and manage merchandise, on a single item-level, with far greater detail and accuracy than traditional systems can manage. The key benefit of RFID for retailers is an accurate and single view of stock across the entire business and its supply chain.

Naturally, RFID systems produce a huge amount of data for products, both in the supply chain and in the individual store. If only there was something that could process all that data…

AI meets RFID: The perfect match

Combining the large amount of item-level data RFID produces with the automated processing power of AI is the natural next step for retail technology.

The key to doing this is each use case adding value or actively solving a problem. At Detego we often talk about ‘avoiding data for the sake of data’ so when using AI to process such data, producing actionable insights and recommendations is vital.

So, what can we do by utilising AI with RFID, and why should retailers care?

So far, the key areas RFID-driven AI automation offers value to retail operations are assisting store staff, assisting customers and optimising inventory management on both a single store scale and across entire store networks.

Our Data Science team are developing solutions for the following use cases, which we will explore in detail in future articles:

Did we spark your interest?

The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
A look at the food industry's key challenges and if (and how) RFID can solve them.

Sustainability in fashion retail is gradually becoming one of the industry’s top priorities. With apparel contributing to around 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, consumer attitudes towards brands are increasingly being influenced by their efforts towards sustainability. This is in turn causing many retailers to look to improve their environmental records and explore new strategies to do so. In this article we’ll explore exactly what that looks like for the industry, and how RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) can be leveraged to help with this, particularly to improve traceability of items.

Sustainable retail is a priority for more and more consumers 

Sustainability in Fashion has been a concern for some time but in recent years consumers, particularly younger generations, who are increasingly concerned with the sustainability of their clothes are forcing major change in the industry. According to the McKinsey apparel CPO survey, there has been a 500% increase in the number of sustainable fashion products launched over the past two years.

This proves that the industry is beginning to move in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. A report by environmental agency Stand.earth claims that only two major brands are delivering on their commitments to reduce emissions, American Eagle and Levi Strauss, who came out on top of the recent report card.

What does sustainable retail mean for the fashion industry?

So, if most of the work is yet to be done to improve sustainability in fashion retail then which areas should retailers focus on? Whilst key areas like sustainable materials and practises will be crucial, retailers will need to make improvements in several different areas in order to improve the footprint of their businesses. Edwin Keh, CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel argues that “There is no silver bullet; rather, there will be a combination of a lot of small innovations and a few radical changes.” In the figure below, from the McKinsey survey, we can see the truth in this, as brands are focusing on a variety of methods to reduce their environmental footprint.

Key Areas Execs plan to work to improve Sustainability of Fashion Retail

RFID and Sustainable Fashion Retail

(For an introduction on the basics of RFID for retail, see this article)

So, what part can RFID play in all this? There are three key ways retailers can improve sustainability with the help of RFID:

  • Produce less through leaner inventories
  • Consumer transparency with item-level traceability through supply chain
  • Digitise the emerging ‘fashion rental’ market

The most obvious solution for fashion is to produce less merchandise and prevent wastage of resources. By implementing an RFID inventory system, retailers can have on average 10-15% less inventory in stores, due to the increased stock accuracy and the ability to leverage their stock more efficiently.

Another way brands can use RFID to improve sustainability is to utilise the item-level traceability that RFID tags can provide. As far as sustainability initiatives go, this is a fairly customer-facing use, as brands can leverage the additional data stored within RFID tags to provide transparency about where their products are sourced. Often this will be displayed through customer facing applications such as the brand app and/or NFC (Near Field Communication) initiatives.

This use case is already being implemented by some retailers, and the majority of RFID-enabled brands seem likely to employ it in the years to come. In the McKinsey survey, 65% of surveyed sourcing executives expect to achieve full traceability from fibre to store by 2025, and the majority of brands plan to use RFID to do so:

Graph Showing which technology is used most to improve traceability

The other big impact RFID looks set to make on the fashion sector is in new markets that are only beginning to emerge on to the world stage:

 

The second-hand clothing market may not be second best for much longer

Due to the large increase in consumer interest in sustainability in fashion retail, something of a sub-industry has developed in the second-hand clothing market in recent years. This is no longer just traditional second-hand clothing outlets such as eBay and charity stores, but also brands that actively trade in used clothing. Chris Homer, CTO of online clothing marketplace ThredUp, says its research found the size of the second-hand clothing market has doubled to $24 billion in the US over the past 10 years, and he predicts the market will overtake fast fashion sales within the next 5-10 years. It isn’t just disruptor brands who are looking towards second-hand clothing, as British retail giant John Lewis recently launched a ‘buyback’ scheme with 20,000 customer to help combat clothing waste.

Could the growing rental-clothing industry be the green alternative to fast fashion?

The other subset of fashion retail that is growing out of sustainability concerns is the rental clothing market. This allows consumers to have access to the same variety and turn-over of clothing that they could have with fast-fashion, but without the waste of resources and impact on the environment. Much like the second-hand market bigger brands are also looking to get involved here, with the international apparel brand H&M having very recently announced a trial of a rental service in their flagship store in Stockholm.

 

New markets = New challenges

Both of these emerging sustainable apparel markets are yet to truly find their feet, and time will tell how sustainable they are as business models. One of the main challenges we see for such markets is the traceability of items and combating counterfeit returns and losses. In both second hand and rental fashion models, you will be dealing with far more individual and one-off items than in typical fashion retail. As such, keeping track of individual items will be vital, but more challenging than normal. In such models, items will be moving in and out of the store in both directions rather than predominately in one. Strong inventory management will therefore by imperative for these businesses to succeed.

 

Could RFID be the backbone of the emerging used clothing & rental fashion industries?

It seems RFID could be the perfect technology to build these new sub-industries around, as an RFID system would be able to deliver the perfect conditions for second hand and rental businesses to thrive. With each item having a completely unique ID, retailers would know exactly what they have available, and exactly what they have out with which customer (in the case of rental). As RFID tags are unique and can’t be forged or copied, retailers could offer these services with full confidence that the right product is being returned, eliminating the possibility of any new illicit markets forming.

Finally, using the real-time digital view of inventory created by an RFID system, second-hand and rental retailers would be able to show exactly what products they have available online making items available to click-and-collect or order online. Without such systems these new models might struggle to have a digital presence, which would limit their reach and ultimately their success.

Did we spark your interest?

The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
A look at the food industry's key challenges and if (and how) RFID can solve them.

A single point of truth in retail means having a single view of stock across the business. It means stores and distribution centres aren’t islands of merchandise that are clunkily attempting to share their version of stock information with one another as best as possible. Instead, at the foundation of the business is a unified view of every single product. Because this view of stock covers the entire network, items can move between stores and DC’s and remain in line-of -sight the entire time. This has huge benefits for individual operations and the business as a whole.

A single point of truth for retail inventory must be:

Single stock view

What is gained from having a single stock view?

Delivering a single stock view with RFID

So how do you achieve this reliable and complete view of stock? A single view of inventory starts with the single item. By giving each item an RFID tag, you’re essentially giving it a unique digital identity. This means, using regular RFID reads and sensors, you can easily track the item as it moves along the supply chain. Once it has arrived in a store, the stock becomes far easier to count, monitor and control. Because all this information is stored centrally in a single place, the individual item can be seen by the online store (and its customers) and even neighbouring stores and DC’s. This transparency boosts efficiency and makes cooperation between different arms of the retail operation far easier to manage.

Single Stock View Roadmap

The Detego platform is the single point of truth for retail inventory

The Detego platform puts all this together and delivers a single stock view that can be counted on. Using RFID we effectively digitise every single product in the supply chain and the store network. The information can then be fed into existing systems, such as ERP and OMS. This delivers all the benefits mentioned above, and our in store application guides store staff to effectively capitalise on this complete view of store inventory.

Single point of truth across supply chain

‘Detego is our “Single point of truth” in terms of in-store inventory. As a result, we are able to improve our omnichannel services such as click & collect, returns from e-commerce in the store or directly deliver to consumers from the store in a very efficient way. These are exactly the services our consumers expect today.’

Tobias Steinhoff, Senior Director Business Solutions Sales Strategy and Excellence, adidas

Did we spark your interest?

The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
A look at the food industry's key challenges and if (and how) RFID can solve them.

In the modern retail industry, you’ll no doubt read a lot about how ‘customer experience is king’, but with such a subjective notion that can’t be measured in any reliable fashion, it often feels like a vague concept. An actively bad experience is more tangible (and something we described how to avoid in our previous article) but what makes an exceptional one is more of a grey area. In fact, the elusive notion of customer experience is at risk of becoming yet another retail buzzword.

So, what does good customer experience look like? We’ll start with making an important distinction between shopping and buying. Shopping is the all-round experience of browsing in a store, looking at items, trying them on (in the case of apparel) and finding items and making decisions as you go. Buying on the over hand is a more straight forward (in theory) process were a customer knows what they want to buy, or at least has a rough idea, and finds and purchases their item quickly and easily.

It’s often said that E-commerce is ahead of physical retail when it comes to simply buying but struggles to match the shopping experience of brick-and-mortar. Some retailers have leaned into what sets them apart from online, focusing their investment and new technologies on improving the shopping experience, to surprise and delight their customers. Others have looked to implement technology to compete with e-commerce’s convenience and provide a more streamlined and ‘seamless experience’.

The reality is both of these elements are pivotal to a strong customer experience, and retailers should look to improve both, sticking to the principal that:

 

Retail should be fun when you want it to be, but fast when you don’t.

Fun retail

 

The fun side of retail is mostly concerned with the shopping side of the retail experience. This is obviously very subjective, and many retail customers will simply find the traditional shopping experience fun, provided they are not hampered any problematic friction points. For other customers though, more needs to be done to amplify the ‘wow factor’, as Steve Dennis says, to tempt them away from either a competitor or the convenience of online.

Retailers are increasingly looking to technology to boost consumer engagement in the store and provide a more entertaining shopping experience. Examples of this include:

 

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (or AR) is an interactive experience where virtual images are placed over images of the real world. Applications of AR in retail include mobile applications and fitting rooms where consumers can virtually try on products like clothes or even cosmetic products.

 

Smart Fitting Rooms

Smart fitting rooms offer a considerable improvement on the traditional fitting room experience and bring a little bit of the online experience into the brick-and-mortar store. The mirror automatically detects items (when tagged with RFID) that have been brought into the room, displays them on the mirror with product information and suggests other items that are available, effectively bringing cross-selling into the store.

Smart Fitting Room

Virtual & Robotic store assistants

Robotic store assistants are certainly on the more futuristic end of the spectrum, with the ability to talk to customers and guide them around the store. Whilst this technology is in the earlier stages, with fairly low adoption rates, they are an undeniably fun concept that will make customers think ‘wow’. On the other end of the spectrum we have virtual assistants or chatbots, which can communicate with customers through their smartphones and answer queries and provide them with information about items and stock-levels.

Fast retail

 

But what happens when a customer doesn’t want to spend their time on the full shopping experience? In such a case, a customer is only focused on buying and not shopping. Certain retailers leave something to be desired here, with disorganised stores and long lines for customer service and checkouts. The buying side of retail also happens to be what e-commerce excels at, so retailers need to invest in technology to be able to compete and keep customers choosing their stores when it comes to fast and convenient purchases. These technologies and strategies include:  

 

Advanced Points of Sale 

Long lines for checkouts are a common problem in retail, and for customers looking for a fast experience this is a major friction point. Thankfully there are a range of PoS technologies that make checkout fast and frictionless. Self-checkout is very common in the food industry and reduces queues if not the time taken at the checkout itself. Alternatives like RFID PoS on the other hand significantly reduces checkout times, were as checkout-less solutions like Amazon go and Mishipay remove the checkout altogether.

 

RFID’s smart inventory

The other main thing slowing down the buying process in the brick-and-mortar experience is finding the correct item in the first place. Locating a specific item in the store can sometimes take far more time that it should, especially if staff don’t have the time or the information to help. What’s even worse than this is if after searching for the item the customer finds out that its out-of-stock altogether. We explored this in detail in our previous article but RFID not only significantly reduces out-of-stocks and increases on-floor product availability, but the real-time view of inventory it provides means customers can check available stock online before setting foot in the store.

 

Omnichannel services

We’ve spoken about e-commerce being good at the buying half of retail, and with the vast majority of retailers now being online and 73% of customers using multiple channels in their shopping journeys, it’s no surprise the demand for omnichannel is as strong as it is today. For a fast retail experience, customers can take advantage of click-and-collect and click-and-reserve when they just want to buy products rather than shop for them.

Good customer experience does both

 

So, to wrap things up, if retailers want to establish a reputation for a great customer experience, they need to have an equal focus on the shopping experience and the buying experience. Shopping should be fun; the in-store offering should be superior to online and at its best it should surprise and delight customers with a certain ‘wow factor’. At the same time, sometimes people just want to buy, and if brick-and-mortar stores make that significantly less convenient than online then they’ll suffer to the competition. By effectively leveraging the right technologies retailers can provide a top-level customer experience that delivers on all fronts and keeps customers coming back time and time again.

Did we spark your interest?

The ‘eCommerce returns’ solution, aimed at fashion and sportswear retailers already utilising RFID tags, will help achieve business continuity following the disruption from COVID-19.
An update from the Detego team on our commitments to safetey and continued service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
A look at the food industry's key challenges and if (and how) RFID can solve them.