Right now, we are witnessing a new era of retail where technology and commerce are joining together to revolutionize the customer experience with retailers. With more retailers implementing new technologies to improve their business operations, many are finding new and innovative applications of existing, tried-and-tested technologies to offer solutions to daily challenges. RFID technology is one of the technologies being applied in inventive ways to enhance a retailer’s operations.
RFID technology is rapidly gaining adoption within the retail industry around the globe as it is dramatically improving inventory management. After the initial investment and returns are being realized by using the technology, retailers are now looking at additional ways to leverage the investment in RFID to further gain competitive advantages and solve operational bottlenecks. The most common place retailers are looking to focus on next is changing the process of customer engagement at Point of Sale (POS) moving to automated and human free checkout. RFID at POS is transforming the overall customer journey through the last step of a store visit to make this quicker, more accurate and smoother than ever before.
Enhanced Check-out Solutions
Beyond using RFID in our credit cards, item-level RFID on garments is being utilized to allow retailers to reduce the “friction” that exists at checkout. The process used at checkouts today across apparel, footwear, fragrance and cosmetics, and home goods retailers is the same as it has been for the last 30 years. Barcodes are scanned one at a time and a card is swiped to complete the financial transaction, creating time for queues to build up. With the awareness that the convenience store model which the Amazon Go store generated, apparel retailers and customers are beginning to expect something as close to that as possible in their experience. While the optical systems used in Amazon Go are not applicable to the high SKU variability environments of apparel, this friction-free and self-checkout experience is going to be part of this New Era of Retailing and RFID is the technology being chosen to further develop this.
Today, most customers don’t know that RFID is being used to keep out of stock levels down. Using this technology at POS is one aspect where the customer can have direct exposure with the new technology and it can help provide a positive differentiated experience for the consumer.
We are seeing retailers adopt RFID at POS for a variety of reasons. In particular, it has the ability to speed up the check-out process and can be part of a ‘technology rebrand’ effort for the retailer whilst also acting as a loss prevention tool by reducing human factor-based errors at checkout.
SML has deployed RFID POS systems to over 250 stores in one retail chain alone and has found that the response from retailers and consumers alike has been very positive due to the accuracy, speed of checkout and the technology experience that the consumer feels during the POS process.
Accurate Inventory Management Benefits
RFID is emerging rapidly as an essential technology tool within the retail space to reach a new level of operational excellence in inventory management. In the past two years alone there has been global rollouts of the technology which has demonstrated its rapid ROI based on sales lift, inventory reduction and omnichannel fulfillment advantages. The technology is fundamentally allowing retailers to gain a greater view of their on-hand inventory, showing 98% inventory accuracy with weekly stock counts by using a system with a few handhelds and reading thousands of tags per minute. Item-Level RFID has become the fundamental tool in opening the door to this New Era in Retailing.
In addition, using RFID technology, items can be accurately tracked and traced from the moment the product leaves the warehouse until the customer makes a purchase and leaves the store. Having an ongoing, accurate view of inventory means that retailers are able to ensure they have the products their customers want and avoid disappointment of out-of-stocks; leading to cost-savings and an improved customer experience. It is not uncommon for customers to experience an out of stock rate of under 1% when all the enterprise systems are synced up and using this new reality of inventory.
Most customers using our Clarity™ solution in stores previously found their existing inventory accuracy in enterprise systems were between 55% and 75% accurate at the sellable unit level for a range of variables including style, size, color. Interestingly, most findings during pilots with retailers is in the breakdown of this 45% to 25% inventory inaccuracy as it tells a story of the real issues at hand.
Retailers are operating under a false picture of inventory levels in their store and are driving behavior and actions upstream. It is not uncommon for us to find retailers to have an “understatement”, in which they have more than they think they have and an “overstatement”, where retailers have less than they think they have of inventory by 10%-20%. Depending on the mix of these two KPIs that the retailer has, it will drive the areas where the benefits can be generated by using item-level RFID.
Fixing “understated” values equates to saving money on inventory that retailers are unlikely to need. Fixing “overstated” values equates to reducing out of stocks and increasing both in-store and on-line pick-up in store sales by improving stock availability. Majority of retailers across dozens of pilots have a mix of both problems not just out of stocks. All inaccuracies stem from only being able to do a relative accurate stock count by hand once or twice a year. With RFID, retailers are able to carry out a stock count of their stores once a week in an hour or so with a few handhelds at 98% accuracy.
Reduced Shrink and Loss Prevention
An enhanced view of inventory naturally leads to a reduction in item shrink which is often the result of theft of access to inaccurate information which is generated at various process steps. On average, shrink percentage within retail is about 2% of sales which presents massive cost implications to retailers. However, RFID can be utilized to prevent shrink through all stages of the supply chain and identify whether an item went missing in transit from the distribution center.
In addition, when RFID is integrated with a store’s POS, it can identify when a product leaves the store without being purchased.
Not only does shrink have cost implications but it also means that a retailer’s view of inventory is already inaccurate which can lead to missed sales opportunities. RFID technology is able to reduce shrink by up to 50%, meaning items are more readily available for purchase and the customer experience isn’t hindered by not having the correct items in store.
Access to a Myriad of Information
Whilst there are numerous ways that RFID technology can be utilized within retail, one of the biggest benefits of the technology is that it allows retailers access to a wealth of information. RFID tags, in concert with tag encoding data management systems, can help downstream systems create a significant amount of contextual information to further optimize processes and customer experience.
Once an RFID tag is read at an EPOS, the SML’s systems can immediately determine the history of product and is used to stop anti counterfeiting and gray market behavior.
Article courtesy of SML-RFID
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