Summary of RFID in Retail
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a growing force behind the scenes in retail. For the uninitiated, the technology involves using radio frequency (RF) to share information about an object’s unique identity (ID). An RFID reader can identify or ‘read’ hundreds of tags in a matter of seconds, at a distance of several feet. For retail, this reduces the reliance on barcodes for inventory management and opens the door to more advanced applications utilising real-time data.
While the story for RFID in retail began in stores, due to the dramatic increase in stock accuracy that it provides driving sales and setting a platform for omnichannel retailing, the potential for RFID in the supply chain has always been there. Now that many global retailers have implemented RFID in stores, they are beginning to leverage and unlock the power of RFID across the supply chain.
For the supply chain, RFID means accuracy, efficiency, and visibility, all of which have a big impact on operations.
The results of RFID in the Supply Chain:
RFID in each Stage of the Supply Chain
For a truly end-to-end view of the supply chain, RFID tagging must start at the factory. Items are encoded with an RFID tag at source, where they will be tracked from here to the point of sale. Once items are tagged and ready to ship, the first ‘read-event’ of the process takes place. The shipments are either put through an RFID tunnel (an automated tunnel fitted with an RFID reader) or read with a handheld reader. This outbound count ensures shipping and tagging accuracy, diverting any anomalies to be checked and fixed, and creates item-level ASN’s (advanced shipping notices) to send to the distribution centre, so they know precisely what they will be receiving. Having every item logged at this stage is also vital for creating visibility over the entire supply chain.
As most brands have anywhere from 10-100+ factories supply their DC, it is vital to ensure that the shipments are accurately accounted for to prevent errors further down the supply chain.
The distribution centre is the heart of any retail supply chain. Goods come in from the factory, and orders go out to, and occasionally come back in from stores, franchises, and customers. As it is logistically the most complex stage, it is here where the majority of processes are supported by RFID:
Supply Chain Processes with RFID
When goods arrive at either the distribution centre or the store, RFID readers are used to quickly count the shipments on an individual item-level. Because DC’s have far higher item throughput than stores, they often utilise automated RFID tunnels for this. Shipments entering the DC go directly onto a conveyor and are accounted for as they pass through the tunnel.
The software then compares inbound reads to the advanced shipping notice and updates the warehouse management system or ERP with accurate information. This process helps maintain the integrity of the stock system and also spots discrepancies early so they can be reconciled and fixed quickly (holding suppliers accountable for mistakes).
This is also where incoming returns are processed. Since RFID tags are unique and can’t be forged, DC’s using the technology can easily identify fraudulent returns, as well as processing the legitimate ones faster.
The packing process also utilises RFID when putting together orders and shipments. The process will vary depending on the DC, but RFID can support the process by a picker using RFID tables or audit stations to confirm the carton is correct by checking the actual contents against the picking list.
Finally, RFID is used to count, verify, and log all outbound shipments.
Goods pass along automated conveyor belts through RFID tunnels. Box barcodes (Using a target list supplied by the Warehouse Management Systems) are scanned at the entrance to the tunnel and an RFID reader in the tunnel reads the contents of each box. If the tunnel detects any differences against the target list, the conveyor system automatically diverts the carton for further inspection.
Outbound results are then sent to the WMS, to update the stock information for the DC. When the DC has processed all cartons from the target lists, the system creates an advanced shipping notice (ASN) for the store that will receive the goods.
The benefits of RFID in the supply chain
Now we have run through how retailers use RFID at specific stages in the supply chain let’s look at the results of doing so. We can broadly split these benefits into three areas:
Accuracy is often the first thing people think of when they hear RFID and with good reason. For the supply chain, RFID improves shipping and inventory accuracy by
1 – Performing more reliable (99%) inventory counts that traditional methods
2 – Counting on an item-level as opposed to an SKU level
3 – Being able to identify and fix mistakes at more stages of the process due to the ease and speed of RFID reads
The financial impact of improving inventory and shipping accuracy across a supply chain is huge, and can include:
The other great strength of RFID is the speed at which it can count and verify items or even entire cartons in seconds. With automated RFID tunnels and a conveyor system diverting any cartons with discrepancies, the efficiency of the DC is maximised, and not at the cost of accuracy. DC’s using RFID have a higher throughput, as they are simply able to process items and orders at a faster rate.
The other major benefit of RFID supply chains is the complete visibility they have other individual items and the movement of merchandise. This not only means shipments and items are trackable in close to real-time, but the number of ‘read-events’ from source to store creates a huge amount of highly valuable data. This data produces useful KPI’s such as throughput, dwell-time, and DC performance. It also allows retailers to trace items back through the supply chain, which is hugely valuable in terms of brand protection and loss prevention.
RFID is used to accurately count, correct, and track all individual items and cartons across the supply chain. This starts in the factory where items are tagged at source, goes on to the distribution centre where orders are sorted and finally sent out to stores. Every time an item enters or leaves a stage of the process it is counted with RFID and all mistakes are identified and corrected.
The most notable benefits for supply chains using RFID come in the form of greater accuracy, efficiency, and complete visibility over the flow of goods. The increased accuracy of both inventory and individual orders can lead to top-line growth, fewer stock outages and the reduction of customer chargebacks for shipping mistakes. The efficiency increase makes supply chains more durable and increases overall item throughput and finally, the visibility of items allow retailers to optimise their operations and offer better services such as omnichannel purchase options.
RFID can be used for all inbound and outbound shipments, logging the contents of each order, and comparing them to the target list – which identifies shipping mistakes before they happen. RFID can also be used in the picking and packing process, counting the items in a carton as the DC staff picks the order, RFID software then confirms whether the order has been picked correctly before it is sent for outbound processing.
There are several types of RFID readers used throughout the supply chain. RFID tunnels are fixed readers built into a conveyor system, they scan the contents of cartons without needing for the carton to be opened and if they detect any discrepancies the conveyor will send the carton to an exception lane. RFID chambers are often used during exception handling, whereas audit tables can be used for this as well is the picking process. Finally, the handheld RFID reader is often used in stores or storage areas when staff need to move around a space to perform a cycle count.
RFID software for the warehouse
The digital supply chain
Detego’s RFID-based warehouse software enables retailers to automate and dramatically improve their receiving, picking/packing and shipping processes in factories and/or distribution centers. These steps are vital parts of an end-to-end RFID solution, providing full visibility across the entire supply chain.
What is Smart Shield?
The Detego Smart Shield is a cutting-edge feature that determines the location of individual RFID tags, by using machine learning algorithms. This allows the Detego Platform to differentiate between the backroom and sales floor of a store, without the need for expensive physical shielding installations.
It’s vital that a stocktake tells you not only exactly what is in a store, but where the items are too. The two locations that need differentiating in stores are typically the backroom and the salesfloor. Store staff, and the Detego platform itself, need to be able to see exactly what’s on the sales floor so they can identify when items and specific sizes are running low so they can be replenished from the backroom. If this isn’t done, you can end up with products in stock but not available to purchase on the shop floor – a costly and easily avoidable mistake.
What problem does it solve?
RFID is able to read items from several feet away, and even through objects like boxes and walls – this is what makes it such an excellent technology for managing inventory. What this means, however, is that a staff member doing an RFID-based stocktake in the backroom could accidentally pick up signals from the sales floor, and therefore allocate items to the incorrect location.
The old solution to this problem involved using a physical shield that blocks RFID signals, often in the form of metal sheets or metallic paint. Making physical modifications to a store such as these is both expensive, costing up to $5000 per store, and time-consuming. When it comes to large scale rollouts of hundreds of stores, the added costs and manhours can be a major barrier to entry for RFID.
With the Detego platform, the need for physical shielding is removed entirely, significantly reducing the cost and time to implement RFID in stores. The Smart Shield feature is available out-of-the-box, meaning retailers can implement the cloud-hosted software in stores with very little fuss. This is what makes the Detego platform the most ‘plug and play’ RFID software on the market.
How does it work?
Every RFID tag creates a specific time and signal stamp when being read by an RFID reader – up to several times per second. Detego collects this data (created during stocktakes) and applies machine learning algorithms to determine the most probable location of individual tags.
Explanation of Smart Shield
The Detego Smart Shield in Action
The Smart Shield feature makes a massive difference for retailers undergoing RFID store rollouts at scale. These benefits include:
- Determines the location of individual items, with no need for physical shielding between separate stock locations
- Help optimise other processes and features, such as stock replenishment advice
- Allows for faster roll-out and reduces up-front costs, as no physical shielding is required
A Detego customer utilising Smart Shield recently rolled-out the platform in record speed, achieving 100 stores per month and with a stock accuracy of greater than 98%. This speed of implementation is far beyond anything seen before Smart Shield and allows retailers to get up and running quickly to unlock the benefits of the platform, driving an instant return on investment throughout their store network. By achieving high stock accuracy and on-floor availability in stores, Detego customers typically see between 3-10% revenue increase per store.
Cloud-hosted RFID software
Stock accuracy, on-floor availability, and omnichannel applications in stores.
Detego Store is a cloud-hosted RFID solution which digitises stock management processes, making them more efficient and more accurate. Implemented within hours, our multi-user app can provide intelligent stock takes and a smart in-store replenishment process. Later, you can scale the solution to offer omnichannel services and effectively manage your entire store operations with real-time, item-level inventory visibility and analytics.
Webinar Recording: Best Practice RFID for Retail Supply Chains
Retail has evolved dramatically in recent years, driven by changing customer expectations, online disruption, and the ongoing digitisation of the industry. Whilst many stores are embracing technology to wow customers and deliver seamless experiences across multiple channels, behind the scenes supply chains are evolving too.
In this webinar we outline how Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is strengthening supply chains and delivering the accuracy and transparency that modern retail demands. Covering the item-level journey from source to store, the presentation will explain how and why major retailers are choosing RFID to digitise and future-proof their supply chains.
This webinar covers:
- The business case and benefits which RFID technology can bring to the retail supply chain
- Key RFID processes and use cases in factories and distribution centres/warehouses
- Best-practice approach and strategy for implementing RFID across the supply chain
- Examples of successful customer implementations and learnings
- Critical insights to successfully manage new supply chain challenges during COVID-19 pandemic
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.
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?
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?
Tagging party of all items in Pilot stores with RFID labels
Product Master Data uploaded to SFTP (or FTP)
Training of store associates
Use of handheld readers and mobile app to perform daily store operations
Daily KPI tracking to analyse results:
- Improvement in stock accuracy
- Improvement in on-floor availability
- Increase in sales
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
- 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.
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.
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Radio frequency identification (RFID) has had a fairly long road to adoption in the retail industry. Leading the way on this journey has often been large tier 1 retailers, either investing and experimenting with the technology in-house or partnering with early RFID specialists like Detego.
However, in the more settled retail RFID industry of today, implementing the technology is a different prospect. Here’s 4 reasons why there’s never been a better time for small and medium retailers to reap the benefits of RFID:
1) RFID has Lowered in Cost
Naturally, price point is a huge factor in choosing to implement a new technology for retailers of any size. Like most technologies, RFID was at its most expensive when it was new, but over time has become more and more affordable. This drop in cost is mostly down to the price of RFID tags themselves decreasing significantly. In the early 2000s, tags cost up to $0.75 (Approx. £0.50) whereas these days the average cost is between 3 to 8 cents (so around £0.05).
Developments in hardware and software also make a difference to the price point of RFID projects. For small and medium sized retailers, in particular, the need for only a single handheld reader per store, new hardware like mobile RFID label printers, and the availability of modular cloud-based SaaS solutions can lower the initial investment required to get started with the technology. This combination of industry progress makes leaner, more affordable RFID solutions a reality.
2) The Established RFID Industry Presents Less Risk and Better Knowledge Application
In the early days, RFID projects presented something of a risk. Bigger brands have the resources and personnel for (often in-house) ‘trial and error’ projects, but smaller organisations do not. Now that Retail RFID is an established sub-industry, retailers no longer have to go it alone and have far more options in terms of vendors, partners and solutions. This often means no steep learning curves and more stable and effective digital transformations. In other words, it’s now known what works and what doesn’t work for RFID in the retail industry.
How has RFID become more feasible for retailers over time?
- Expanded and established use cases
- Project stability
- Securing return of investment
- Easy and less expensive implementation
3) RFID Implementation has Become Easier
Historically, implementation has always been a barrier to entry for RFID. This is because adopting RFID is a fairly transformative project, meaning you have to make significant changes to see the significant benefits. Unfortunately, these changes have looked too daunting for many a retailer, especially for smaller brands who don’t have the resources to spare on long projects or clunky transformations. In recent years however, established RFID solutions offer more of a ‘plug and play’ experience.
How has RFID implementation changed for retailers?
- Out-of-the-box solutions
- Cloud-hosted platforms
- Smart shield
- Able to print and encode labels on-site
4) Scalable Solutions are the Perfect Platform for Smaller Retailers to Unlock the Value of RFID
As well as easier implementation, scalable SaaS solutions are now common practise, making RFID projects easier to manage and develop over time. A scalable solution means retailers don’t have to jump straight into the deep end. This makes the technology far more accessible for retailers of all sizes, but perhaps particularly for smaller sized retailer who have a limited technology budget and need to invest over time.
Scalable solutions, like the Detego platform, often focus on core deliverable KPI’s like inventory accuracy and product availability in stores. This is because they provide immediate ROI as well as being the key foundation for many of RFID’s other use cases. One of the main benefits of scalable RFID for smaller retailers is the quickly established ROI can fund the additional investment needed to scale the solution, providing a much easier route to full adoption.
Here’s an example of what a scalable in-store RFID solution (The Detego Store platform) looks like:
Putting It All Together – What an RFID Project Should look Like for a Smaller Retailer.
So, a smaller retailer can take advantage of RFID with only a single handheld reader per store and a lean cloud-hosted RFID solution run through a mobile application. Other than the initial change in production to introduce source-tagging (adding RFID labels at the factory) implementation for such a solution is very minimal. The result of this would be rapid increase in stock accuracy, product availability and a subsequent increase in sales. This type of project provides an almost immediate return of investment, the retailer could then choose to scale and advance their solution at any point or stay with what they have and benefit from a leaner, better managed inventory.
Not only has the technology matured, including tags, hardware and software, but RFID use cases, best-practise and implantation strategies have now been firmly established. Additionally, the RFID sector is now an established market in its own right, meaning smaller enterprises don’t have to go it alone. By using established and experienced specialist partners, retailers can skip the learning curves and go straight to reaping the benefits of RFID.
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The retail environment has never been more demanding than it is today, thanks to fierce competition, the growth of e-commerce, and consumers’ high expectations for seamless shopping experiences. It’s a situation made even more difficult by a lack of inventory visibility, the complexity of supply chains and the sheer variety of products brands are faced with.
While retailers have access to a growing number of solutions to these issues, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is the only one that’s proven to consistently meet retailers’ needs for leaner processes, accurate inventory and real-time data analytics.
This webinar covers:
• The five most important needs identified by retailers and their effect on business
• How RFID-based systems and processes can be applied to solve each need
• What financial and operational benefits can be gained by doing so
• How retailers can further unlock the power of RFID to offer a truly seamless and connected shopping experience
The 6 Key Benefits of RFID in Retail
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.
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.
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.
According to research in 2018, 69% of retailers cite a significant level of adoption, and this number is continuing to rise.
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
The age of digital disruption has caused a shift in both consumer expectations and the retail landscape as a whole. Naturally, many retailers have looked towards implementing new technologies in an attempt to either adapt to or capitalise on these changes. When researching new retail technologies, the focus should be on transforming the customer’s experience and eliminating existing friction points.
The question needs to be asked, is this directly solving a major problem for retail customers? In other words: Is there a demand for it? Focusing on the comparatively mundane details first needs to be a priority, as attention on what drives customer experience at the most basic level can be the difference between success and failure in the age of digital disruption.
One technology that consistently meets these demands is radio Frequency identification. RFID is a growing force in retail, with 69% of retailers around the world citing a significant level of RFID adoption. The technology involves tagging individual items of merchandise, like a barcode but entirely unique to the individual item that can be ‘read’ and tracked with ease. One of the most common business cases for the technology is the process accuracy and efficiency that it delivers, but the difference that RFID can make to the customer is not to be overlooked.
Empty shelves are a simple problem, and yet are still a painfully common occurrence in retail. In a survey by Elastic Path, it was found that 55% of shoppers surveyed had experienced an issue with out of stock inventory. Is it then any wonder then that ecommerce is putting pressure on brick-and-mortar stores?
As obvious as it might sound, a product can only be bought if it’s on the shop-floor. If replenishment isn’t automated or falls victim to human error, stores can be temporarily faced with unnecessary out of stock situations that damage both sales and reputation. This problem is often a subtle one, with stores and retailers having no way of observing the true level of item availability.
With a cloud-based RFID platform that utilises the Internet of Things, on-floor availability becomes much easier to manage, significantly reducing out-of-stock situations by up to 50%. The main way this is achieved is through fast and accurate stocktakes and automated replenishment processes. Store staff can now perform stock takes of an entire store (50,000 items) in just 25 minutes to a level of 99% accuracy.
This full and accurate view of store stock combats out-of-stocks in two ways. Firstly, the visibility of stock provides store staff to easily monitor stock levels. More advanced RFID systems like the Detego platform can not only operate in real-time and provide replenishment alerts, but can they can also use machine learning to suggest optimised replenishment advice, set on either a set planogram or an AI-optimised one.
Disconnect between online & offline
The increasing influence of online and ecommerce is arguably the biggest driver of digital disruption in retail. The convenience and choice that shopping online offers has resulted in highly demanding modern customers. Whilst these days practically every brick-and-mortar retailer has expanded into e-commerce to meet these consumer demands, there is unfortunately a noticeable disconnect between many retailer’s online and offline shopping channels, damaging the customer experience despite best intentions.
The key to a good ‘omnichannel’ shopping experience is not to necessarily be everywhere, but to be seamless and flexible at every step of the shopping journey. Non pure-play retailers that can do this will have a competitive advantage, not least because of the choice they offer customers, but with features like click-and-collect and ship-from-store, they can offer an unmatchable level of flexibility whilst opening up the entire inventory network to all channels.
To be able to do this, retailers need a complete and real-time view of stock across their store network in all channels. RFID provides this through digitising stock (utilising the IoT) and tracing the movement of individual items in real-time. With this foundation, it is possible to build extensive and reliable omnichannel services, blending shopping channels and providing a flexible and convenient experience for customers. RFID is the backbone of strong omnichannel services such as this. In fact, 83% of RFID adopters offer three or more omnichannel fulfilment options compared to only 24% of non-adopters.
At its most basic level, this can include opening up stock transparency to customers so they can check availability of items online before coming into a store. The more advanced features include click-and-collect and ship-from-store, both of which provide a competitive edge against pure-play ecommerce, as customers get a more convenient and flexible shopping experience regardless of which ‘channels’ they use.
Limited Customer service
When discussing disruption and new technologies, its easy to forget about core principles and traditional strengths, but technology should be built with those in mind. For retail stores, that means customer service. This remains a key part of physical stores’ USP today, but with the demand for store associates’ time being severe, these traditional strengths can sometimes be left behind.
In studies by Elastic path it was found that 42% of shoppers surveyed said they’d had an issue with long wait times for customer service, suggesting that something new is required to stop what was once a core strength of stores becoming a friction point for customers.
RFID platforms meet this demand in two different ways. First and foremost, is simply the fact that RFID operations are much leaner and less labour intensive, for example it cuts cycle count times by up to 96%. This has the simple yet effective result of drastically decreasing the amount of time retail staff have to spend on manual processes like replenishment, therefore freeing up a significant amount of staff time to be spent elsewhere with customers.
The other significant ways RFID can assist customer service are the platforms and features that can be built around the technology. Mobile chatbots can assist customers with queries about item availability and available sizes, thanks to the real-time item transparency produced by RFID. In the fashion industry, Smart-Mirrors can do this whilst also reducing the friction points associated with changing rooms, as they can provide information from within the fitting room and can also be fitted with features to call store assistants to bring any items required to the fitting room.
Fashion Retail and RFID are a perfect fit which is proved by many major fashion retail chains that have already moved to in-store RFID with excellent results. RFID makes it possible to easily identify articles and have full merchandise visibility. Successful fashion retailers go one step further and use more of the hidden potential behind real-time article transparency, laying the foundation for overcoming their greatest strategic challenges, among them omni-channel and digitalisation.
This webinar provides insights how international fashion retailers are laying the right foundation for their successful strategies, and how they use RFID as a base to differentiate in the extremely competitive segment of fashion retail.