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.
Detego has installed its cloud-hosted RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) SaaS platform in Marc Cain’s new state-of-the-art Distribution Centre (DC). Detego delivered the solution alongside KNAPP, who led the overall development of the new centralised operation. The highly-automated Distribution Centre, based in Germany, uses RFID tunnels to verify inbound and outbound shipments without needing to open any boxes. The implementation of RFID in the Distribution Centre allows for over 35,000 articles to be processed on a daily basis, with 100% accuracy and significant improvement to efficiency and visibility of the supply chain.
Due to high demand online and in-store, Marc Cain decided to centralise their 6 regional warehouses into a single cutting-edge distribution centre, reinforced with the right technology to handle the high frequency of orders.
KNAPP AG led the design of the highly automated DC and they brought in Detego to implement an RFID solution – they needed to be able to efficiently validate shipments in and out of the DC with the efficiency and complete accuracy only possible with RFID
Utilising the Detego platform, Marc Cain’s DC verifies all inbound and outbound orders on an item-level without needing to open boxes. Staff simply place orders on the conveyor, and they pass through an RFID tunnel, which validates every item in the carton in seconds. Alongside highly sophisticated storage and packing processes implemented by KNAPP, the solution allows for 35,000 articles to be processed in a single day, with 100% accuracy.
Building a DC fit for the future
Marc Cain is a worldwide premium brand for women’s fashion, operating predominantly out of Germany. After continued growth, the brand opted to move away from their regional warehouses to develop and construct a highly-sophisticated singular DC which boasts over 24,500m2 of usable area. Marc Cain’s logistics and solutions partner, KNAPP, brought in RFID specialists, Detego, to integrate the necessary RFID systems with their leading KiSoft WMS & WCS software. Doing so allows for automated item-level tracking of products both entering and leaving the Distribution Centre. These advancements have enabled Marc Cain to cope with their increased demand whilst ensuring complete accuracy and timely shipping of all orders.
“As we had already experienced good cooperation in another project with Detego, we have reached out to them when we started discussing the RFID request Marc Cain was looking for. Within a short time, we were able to integrate the state-of-the art platform from Detego in the solution we were providing to Marc Cain. With that extension, we can support Marc Cain to increase the efficiency and reliability inside the warehouse and have 100% content checks for every delivery leaving the warehouse”
Stefan Leichtenmueller – Customer Care Manager.
Automated RFID validation for complete accuracy
RFID is frequently being adopted in Apparel retailers’ Distribution Centres, as the speed at which it can process shipments at item-level is unmatched. Detego has a strong pedigree of deploying RFID solutions in the supply chain, being the first to develop an end-to-end software platform for retail. This experience, alongside their focus on the apparel retail sector, makes their advanced RFID platform a perfect match for KNAPPs leading warehouse automation systems and software for e-commerce, retail, and fashion. The decision to use RFID was made even more attractive by the fact Marc Cain have already adopted RFID-driven processes in stores, allowing them to gain additional value out of their digital garments within the supply chain.
“With this solution, Marc Cain can perform automated inbound and outbound RFID validation, ensuring complete accuracy going in and out of the Distribution Centre,”
Urs Konstantin Rouette, Managing Director, Technical Development, Production, Purchase & Logistics.
Staff simply place cartons on a conveyor and the boxes are taken through an RFID tunnel which counts and validates every individual garment inside the box, without needing a line of sight. All information is stored in the cloud-hosted Detego platform providing complete visibility over items entering and leaving the DC. Any cartons with discrepancies are automatically diverted to exception handling lanes where they are double-checked with High-Density Read Chambers (HDRCs) and subsequently corrected.
KNAPP also share additional customers with Detego and is one of many 3rd party logistics providers that Detego has recently partnered with to integrate their RFID platform. As the demand for visibility and operational efficiencies in the supply chain increase, more retailers are seeking RFID systems to complement their existing technology stacks from factory, to distribution centre and throughout store networks.
Take a look around the DC with project leaders, KNAPP:
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Managing the flow of merchandise in retail supply chains has always been a challenge.
Traditionally, the large quantities being dealt with meant that visibility of merchandise was poor. Items were tracked and accounted for in rough quantities, not consistently or accurately enough to hold suppliers and distribution centres accountable for mistakes and inaccuracies. This meant a fair amount of leakage, either of efficiency or directly in the form of physical shrinkage as items become ‘lost’, damaged or shipped incorrectly.
Fast forward to the present day, with advanced technology like RFID and the IoT, and the standard for retail supply chain management has changed. ‘Supply chain 4.0’ can effectively track and trace individual items from source to store, utilising RFID technology to track individual products and the Internet of Things to store and leverage this information on a digital platform or cloud.
The data and visibility provided by such digital supply chains are extremely valuable, allowing retailers to:
●Quantify the performance of the supply chain (visibility),
●Identify “the last known location of items” (accountability),
●Inspect the history of items and even raw materials (traceability).
Here are the 3 fundamentals of retail supply chain optimisation using item-level data:
“To be able to see…”
Supply chain visibility is a growing priority for retailers. According to a report by Zebra Technologies, 72% of retailers are working on digitizing their supply chains in order to achieve real-time visibility. Knowing exactly what is in the pipeline allows retailers to control inventory more efficiently, improve operations between stores and DC’s as well as offer effective omnichannel services and delivery options.
However, the majority of supply chains don’t have anywhere near this level of visibility, as 62% of supply chains operate with a limited view over merchandise flow. This is because goods move along the supply chain in such large quantities, and most supply chains only account for cartons of items, rather than the items themselves.
For example, cartons of T-Shirts with quantities of around 50 are commonly sent out, but without RFID accounting for individual products, you can’t know if the quantities are correct. In other words, you are guessing what should be there as you do not have the visibility to know what is there. This may result in a store believing they have less or more products than they actually do. If however, they do identify the mistake, without visibility over the supply chain there is no way of knowing where the error occurred.
RFID technology can make every step along the supply chain visible while also providing a meaningful context, using digital ‘touchpoints’ to track items throughout their journey. RFID Tunnel installations can even automatically process these cartons, to identify shortages and surpluses all without opening the box. This way large inbound and outbound shipments can be processed quickly, accurately and down to the item-level.
“To be able to verify the history…”
If supply chain visibility allows us to know where items are right now, traceability means being able to look back at where they have come from. As items are tracked through the supply chain with RFID, a record of all read events is stored on the cloud. Not only this, but the data from the product journey can be combined with similar data from materials used in each product. This information means retailers can not only see the last locations and events of items but they can also:
- Inspect their history (inception to sale)
- Change layers of abstraction (e.g., from item to carton)
- Go back to the source (materials sourced from cotton farms)
Having the ability to trace individual items back through the supply chain allows retailers to identify where shrinkage occurs and trace products back to the source in the case of a product recall. The traceability is also key as it involves keeping a permanent record of supply chain flow, not only does this mean valuable data, it also gives supply chain leaders the concrete evidence to hold suppliers accountable…
“To be responsible…”
With digital track and trace technology in place, retailers will have access to the all-important last known location of items.
This means it is possible to identify where errors occur and hold supply chain and retail partners accountable. On the other hand, it can also serve as proof of service.
This information is also invaluable when it comes to brand protection. Not only can RFID technology easily identify counterfeit products but using the last known location of products allows retailers to identify how legitimate products end up on the grey-market. This is achieved by tracing them back to their last known location in the supply chain.
Knowledge of when and where an item was last seen/did not show up also dramatically speeds up clarification and accountability processes.
These 3 building blocks allow the extraction of KPIs and models to:
- Monitor shrinkage
- Identify grey imports
- Minimize counterfeits
- Automate re-ordering via dwell times and throughput
- Identify bottlenecks.
Looking to optimise your retail supply chain? The Detego platform is the end-to-end track and trace solution
Achieving complete supply chain transparency requires implementing an RFID system across your entire value chain, preserving detailed information about each RFID read event of each individual item (such as inbound verification, stocktake or sale). Thanks to that, knowing an item’s EPC (Electronic Product Code) number is enough to find out what, where and when happened to it. This capability is most useful when stores, distribution centres and factories are all integrated with one system – that system is Detego.
With efficient RFID processes from source-to-store, retailers not only gain new levels of accuracy and efficiency but achieve unprecedented transparency of the supply chain. Detego’s Global Track and Trace feature deliver the visibility, traceability and accountability to optimise retail supply chains for sustainable retail success.
Webinar: Item-level reporting from source-to store
Digitisation and data go hand-in-hand. As retail supply chains continue to go digital, a wealth of item-level data on the flow of merchandise through the supply chain is unlocked. In the future, the winners and losers of supply chain management will be determined by who leverages this information more effectively.
Join Detego’s Chief Data Scientist, Simon Walk, as he presents the cutting edge of supply chain analytics and how digitisation is taking the guesswork out of retail logistics.
This webinar covers:
• Item-level tracking of Items along the Supply Chain to deliver accountability, visibility & traceability
• Effective traceability which combats supply chain shrinkage and counterfeit products.
• Using heuristic & Machine Learning based Algorithms to detect supply chain irregularities.
• Using dwell-time data to optimise operational & Supply Chain processes
• Analysing throughput data across factories, DCs and stores
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
🏪 What is in-store fulfilment?
In-store fulfilment, also known as ship-from-store, is an Omnichannel retail strategy that essentially involves utilising retail stores as miniature distribution centres. This allows eCommerce orders to be fulfilled and shipped to customers from either the primary DC or a nearby store. Having multiple options for fulfilment available means retailers can take some pressure off DC’s and offer customers more stock and faster delivery by utilising nearby stores.
📦 Could ship-from-store be a viable strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The use of in-store fulfilment and ‘mini DC’s’ has been steadily growing for years, due to both the continued growth of eCommerce as well as the inherent business benefits listed below. In the current climate of COVID-19, with stores closed and the immediate-future uncertain, leveraging closed stores as DC’s could potentially help alleviate the increased pressure on eCommerce operations and help brands achieve business continuity during this time. The practicality of this will vary between brands and even countries, but its possible a reduced small team of staff could run as an effective warehouse during the coming months.
🚚 What are the advantages of using stores as miniature Distribution Centres?
- Takes some pressure off DC’s, meaning a brand can handle increasing eCommerce orders without needing to invest in additional DC’s
- Reduces shipping costs by moving distribution points closer to destination
- Increases delivery speed as orders are shipped from nearby stores
- Idle inventory that is sitting in stores can instead be sold through eCommerce – increases margins by preventing seasonal mark-downs.
- Ship-from-store is an effective and profitable way to prevent inventory stockpiling up at the wrong locations
- Retailers can offer customers more products i.e. not just inventory available at the DC
- Alternative ‘mini-DC’s’ offer fulfilment options if the primary DC is temporarily shut down or disrupted.
- Leverages staff during slow periods for stores or if stores are temporarily closed
- Offers more products/sizes to customers (see figure below)
☑️ What is required to leverage stores as DC’s?
Whilst the benefits are huge, getting in-store fulfilment right is a fine balance and requires a certain amount of technology and digital integration across the supply chain. Retailers who attempt to offer ship-from-store (or any omnichannel capability) without these prerequisites will struggle. According to the Accenture study ‘Transforming Modern Retail’, Survey respondents that offer ship-from-store claimed that 31 percent of such orders triggered a split shipment, a result of not having the right foundations in place.
So, what do retailers need in order to utilise in-store fulfilment?
- Inventory Visibility – First and foremost, for cooperation across and between shopping channels, (i.e. for eCommerce to leverage inventory outside of their primary DC) brands need to have inventory visibility across their supply chain and stores. This view of stock needs to be unified between all channels and be as up to date as possible in order to achieve a ‘single point of truth’ for a brands merchandise.
- High Stock Accuracy – Having visibility over all of a brands merchandise is a start, but if this information is not highly accurate, cross-channel initiatives like this one will be fairly ineffective. Retail store inventories can be as low as 70% accurate when it comes to item-level product information. If this is the baseline for ship-from-store, it will result in either split shipments or cancelled orders – resulting in high costs and disappointed customers. For Omnichannel options like this, accuracy needs to be near 99% to confidently offer advanced purchasing options to customers.
- Investment in Stores – To facilitate in-store fulfilment a certain amount of investment needs to be made for stores. This may involve slightly altering the layout of a store, or hiring extra staff, depending on the business. More crucially, investment may need to be made in technology to achieve the accurate inventory visibility required to offer ship-from-store. This may include advanced inventory management technology like RFID.
- Maintained Store Inventory levels – Once this is in place and retailers are utilising in-store fulfilment, care needs to be taken to maintain the balance of store inventory between stock available to be used for eCommerce fulfilment and stock that is available for sale in the store. This is a fine balance to maximise sales between both channels. Retailers must ensure ship-from-store orders do not cause out-of-stocks for the brick-and-mortar store that is fulfilling them.
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Complete Supply chain visibility was once an optional bonus for retailers, but in the modern industry it is becoming more and more of a necessity.
Whilst in the past, limited tracking of shipments in the supply chain was commonplace, in the modern environment with its more complex supply chains, delivery options and increasing customer expectations, retailers need to do more.
This isn’t just us saying so, retailers recognise this too. According to a report by Zebra Technologies, 72% of retailers are working on digitizing their supply chains in order to achieve real-time visibility.
What Is Supply Chain Visibility?
Having visibility means being able to accurately track products and shipments throughout the supply chain, from the manufacturer, to the distribution centre and finally to the store. Having this visibility prevents shipping errors, improves operational efficiency and allows retailers to leverage products to service their customers better.
Why Do Retailers Need Visibility?
Managing supply chains effectively is always a priority for retailers. But as these supply chains get bigger the challenge becomes more daunting. Visibility is needed to align such large operations, and this is before you add new pressures like omnichannel, traceability and online orders.
Additionally, supply chain visibility is arguably even more important in ecommerce than for pure-play brick and mortar retailers. Not only do you need to know exactly what stock the fulfilment centre has, but what stock it is due to receive and when. And since pure-play brick and mortar retailers are now few and far between , this now means that most retailers’ supply chains need to be more advanced and transparent than previously required.
This is before mentioning the divisive omnichannel word, which often requires even greater transparency and synergy between stores and distribution centres and includes multiple delivery options.
There are also more classic supply chain challenges that can be helped by achieving visibility. General inefficiencies and inaccuracies can be reduced by adding more checkpoints throughout the supply chain – particularly when these are done at an item level, and not shipment or carton level.
Adding this visibility also makes better communication between different stages of the chain possible, which leads to smoother operations. Having visibility at an item-level also makes traceability of items through the supply chain possible. This can make a massive difference in combatting supply chain shrinkage, and in some cases the grey market.
The ‘New’ Challenges:
Multi/omni-channel businesses – It seems like an age ago, but traditional retail supply chains went in one direction and to one place – stores. Now almost all retailers also run their businesses online meaning their they operate on multiple sales channels, therefore, their supply chains service far more destinations than before.
Multiple delivery options – A relatively recent challenge created by the growth of online and the already mentioned omnichannel purchasing options. Retailers want to offer their customers as much stock and as many purchasing options as possible, but without the technology to support it, this can cause problems. In an Accenture survey, respondents claimed that 31 percent of their Ship from Store orders triggered a split shipment.
Customer expectations – Customer expectations has shifted. In a 2019 report, it was found that Half of shoppers reported abandoning a purchase due to a lack of cross-channel buying options. This is a major impact on sales, and many retailers are starting to adapt to the change in expectations.
The Old Challenges:
Supply chain inefficiency – Supply chain inefficiencies and miscommunication through “Chinese Whispers” are costing UK businesses over £1.5bn in lost productivity according to analysis of industry data from Zencargo.
Supply chain shrinkage – According to the National Security Survey, businesses in the United States lose $45.2 billion through inventory shrinkage a year. Whilst retail stores make up the majority of this, supply chains still experience large amounts of inventory shrink, particularly when they have no visibility of products.
What are the benefits of having supply chain visibility?
Better customer service
Improved inventory control
Shorter cycle times
Smoother operational processes between stores and DC’s
Better data for more intelligent business decisions
Reduce out of stocks
Track and trace products
Offer effective omnichannel services and delivery options
How Do You Achieve Supply Chain Visibility?
Implement a system that works at an item-level (not whole cartons)
Accurately track products at as many points as possible during shipping
Inbound and outbound counts at every stage of shipping
Implement effective exception handling
Use a cloud-based system to integrate all stages of the supply chain and achieve as close to a real-time view of merchandise movement as possible
Send advanced shipping notices (ASN’s) so warehouses and stores now exactly what they’ll receive
Use this visibility to enable traceability of each item throughout its journey
The Detego Platform allows retailers to gain complete visibility over their operations
If you’re looking for a solution or partner to help achieve better supply chain visibility, consider our platform!
Using RFID item level-tagging, the cloud-based Detego platform gives each individual item a unique digital identity. Items are then tracked from factory to shop floor using radio frequency identification (RFID) methods. RFID makes this possible as inbound, outbound and even exception handling can then be done through RFID reads – which are fast, accurate and can be done without opening cartons.
Since RFID works on the individual item-level, the result of this is complete visibility of the supply chain. The platform utilises the IoT to create a complete overview of every single product in the supply chain, as its cloud hosted this can be close to real-time and is the ‘single point of truth’ for the entire business.
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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:
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.
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.
‘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
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